Thompson resigns from Hamilton Hometowns

Supervisors offer way to continue funding for program this year

STANHOPE — When the board of directors for Hamilton Hometowns met in special session Wednesday evening, the only agenda item was to accept the resignation of executive director Sarah Thompson.

Thompson resigned following a recent decision from the board of supervisors to withdraw county funding of the group effective the end of this calendar year.

“I am leaving because I’m not sure how you will continue,” Thompson told the 11 board members who were present. “I have been proud to work with you, and for the most part, I have enjoyed working with you. Remember that you are still five strong even without Main Street.”

Thompson was referring to the five Hamilton county communities that are members of Hamilton Hometowns — Ellsworth, Jewell, Stanhope, Stratford, and Kamrar. All but Kamrar are also members of Main Street Iowa. With county funds withdrawn from the Hamilton Hometowns budget, at question is whether that membership can continue.

The board reluctantly accepted Thompson’s resignation and voted to extend one month of severance pay. Her last day will be Aug. 31. Plans were made for an audit of Hamilton Hometowns, a routine step with a staff change.

Supervisors Doug Bailey and David Young attended Wednesday’s meeting. Bailey presented to the board a new plan which the supervisors have worked out since the last Hamilton Hometowns meeting. “To see the enthusiasm last week got our attention,” Bailey told the group about why the supervisors revisited the issue of funding for Hamilton Hometowns. “We were impressed. If nothing else, it has fired us up in a good way. I feel encouraged by this participation.

“What we would propose is to continue on with funding as it has been until the end of this fiscal year,” Bailey stated. “For the next fiscal year starting in July 2019, funding would be reduced by about half.”

Carryover in the budget for Hamilton Hometowns would allow that plan to be ongoing, according to Bailey. Current funding for the group from the county is approximately $56,000 annually.

“I think the time frame we put on all this at the last meeting was just too tight. We need to take some time to decide where we go from here,” stated Young.

He said he has visited with Rebecca Mines, part-time staff for Hamilton Hometowns, and she is willing to fill in with clerical, payroll, and administrative duties at her current pay rate as needed during this transition period.

Working out how to best move forward as Hamilton Hometowns was the focus of the remainder of the two-hour meeting. The member towns, which except for Ellsworth were all represented at the meeting, must decide if they will remain members.

Another issue is continuing in Main Street Iowa, an organization devoted to downtown economic development. All the member towns except for Kamrar – which joined Hamilton Hometowns just last month — are currently in Main Street. But proposed funding cuts mean that Hamilton Hometowns can’t meet their requirements.

Young asked each town represented to indicate their interest in membership in Hamilton Hometowns and Main Street.

Jessica Murray, a board member for Stanhope, said that community wants to stay in Hamilton Hometowns and would like to stay in Main Street, but there are no extra funds available for that.

Greg Carlson, the Stratford board representative, said they see Main Street as a great asset, but they are “teetering” about maintaining their membership. Without Main Street, the community would still maintain their membership in Hamilton Hometowns.

The Jewell board member said her community is in a holding pattern on the issue. Nothing official has been decided yet, “but we are pretty firm to stay in both programs,” stated Mellissa Roethler, president of Jewell Area Development Enterprise. “We will likely pursue staying in Main Street with or without Hamilton Hometowns. We are committed to Main Street one way or another.”

Jeannette Tempel reported that Kamrar wants to stay in Hamilton Hometowns, “but we’re waiting to see how this plays out.”

Supervisor Young, chair of Hamilton Hometowns since 2000, told the board that it is up to them to decide the direction of the group.

“I’m suggesting to sit on this for one month till the next meeting. I want it to be your decision,” he said. “I think a rush to do something would not be appropriate.

“We’ll get this figured out,” he assured the board as he closed the meeting. “I just don’t know what shape it will take.”