SIOUX CITY | A program that teaches golf and life lessons to at-risk Woodbury County kids faces an uncertain future after the summer session.
The County Board, aiming to set a 2013-14 fiscal year budget, on Tuesday gutted funding for the First Tee program by two-thirds, from $75,650 to $25,217.
First Tee was created in 2008 as a diversionary program for at-risk children to keep them out of the Woodbury County Juvenile Detention Center.
County Board members said they like the program, which started with a handful of kids and grew to serve 270 in 2012. But they said it was time for the program to find other funding sources.
"We've got to wean this program from county responsibility. This is the first step," board Chairman Larry Clausen, of Sioux City, said.
County Budget Director Dennis Butler said he looked into 25 First Tee programs nationally and found the large majority exist on fees and donations rather than government largesse.
Board member David Tripp, of Sioux City, said many of the kids served have parents who can afford to pay $50 to $75 to attend First Tee.
First Tee Program Director Steve McGrory said 60 percent of the children served in 2012 came from homes with income of less than $49,000.
McGrory said he hopes the program can continue because no one who's taken part in First Tee has later been held overnight in the detention center.
"We serve a lot of special needs kids that otherwise might not have role models in their lives," McGrory said.
Several parents who support First Tee didn't address the County Board, since they arrived after the meeting ended. They had expected the topic to be discussed at 11:10 a.m., as listed on the meeting agenda.
McGrory and Juvenile Detention Center Director Mark Olsen said they will discuss seeking replacement funding from the city of Sioux City, Sioux City school district and donations.
The board members were airing financial issues related to the FY 2014 budget for the final time before they vote on the $54.2 million plan March 12. The proposed budget has a reduced property tax levy for town residents, but about 8,100 residents who own rural tracts may have to pay more into the Rural Basic Fund as part of a five-year plan to repair 14 bridges and improve a road near Anthon.
Clausen said he will support increasing the rural levy, a position he reached after meeting with the Woodbury County Farm Bureau board of directors on Feb. 7, when the group voted to back the increase.
"What they are looking at, it is an investment in the future," Clausen said.
Tripp said he's undecided, saying residents on the western side of the county typically oppose the levy. He said eastern Woodbury County residents are more favorable to a property tax increase, from $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $2.36 per $1,000, because they live where the majority of the bridges will be replaced.
The levy increase would raise $6.5 million over five years.