Incubator officials asked to clarify request for dollars

As the Beaverton City Council prepares to consider a $170 million city budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, questions linger over a $46,600 line item related to marketing for the Oregon Technology Business Center.

With $120,000 already proposed in the budget for the business incubator's operating expenses, city councilors are seeking clarification on the purpose of the additional funding and how the allocation made its way into the budget.

To that end, the council has requested a work session with OTBC officials to gain clarity on the requested amount and the ongoing fiscal relationship between the city and the OTBC. The issue is expected to be added to an upcoming council agenda.

The $46,600 in question is related to an earlier $35,000 allocation the OTBC requested to use for marketing-related projects. That amount was leftover from $75,000 in the 2010-11 budget devoted to cover the nonprofit's move from an office park off 158th Avenue to its current location at 8305 S.W. Creekside Place.

City Councilor Ian King said he assumed the leftover $35,000 was a one-time gesture and was therefore surprised to come across a larger amount - above and beyond the operating expenses allocation - in the proposed 2012-13 budget. At Budget Committee meetings on May 23 and 30, King passionately argued for more specificity from the OTBC.

'I want to see the OTBC put before us and show us how this (allocation) is used,' he said, noting the Budget Committee holds area social service agencies to strict guidelines in terms of spending and transparency. 'It would be nice to give the OTBC a chance (to explain). I'm not saying they don't need this. I just don't feel we have the transparency.'

Started in 2003, the OTBC is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that provides coaching, networking, office space, entrepreneurship programs and other resources designed to assist startup business ventures.

'OTBC is valuable. Jeez, it's so valuable,' King said on May 30, 'but it's not something that can be sustained indiscriminately in these times.'

OTBC Executive Director Steve Morris, who attended but didn't speak at the May 30 meeting, said this week the $46,600 allocation was a 'mistake' and understands the council's need for further clarification.

'It started with an error I made with the initial budget request, and I didn't get a chance to review it,' he said. 'There were mistakes made in the process that left some confusion. That's what we want to clear up.'

Morris explained the actual amount the OTBC is requesting for marketing-related projects is $25,000, a $10,000 reduction from the previous leftover amount the City Council allowed the organization to keep.

The Budget Committee's current recommendation for OTBC base funding is $120,000 - down from the base of $129,000 for fiscal year 2011-12 - with $25,000 the amended working amount (from $46,600) for marketing expenses the council intends to discuss with OTBC officials.

The reduction in funding reflects the long-term goal of the incubator to become self-sustaining and less reliant on subsidies.

'That really was the concept, that the city get it started and the support level will go down,' Morris said. 'Indeed it has gone down quite a bit. It's just not down to zero yet.'

He plans to work closely with the council and city officials to ensure ongoing clarity of OTBC budget requests and steer the organization toward greater financial independence.

'This is the first time there's ever been a hiccup in the process,' he noted. 'We have to keep executing on that goal to drive down the city's (financial) support. And I think we've got good plans to do that.'

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