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updated: 5/1/2012 5:25 PM

DuPage funding for conservation group in doubt

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  • SCARCE founder Kay McKeen says she worries that a contract the Glen Ellyn-based conservation group has with DuPage County won't be renewed. The group educates residents about the value of being environmentally responsible.

      SCARCE founder Kay McKeen says she worries that a contract the Glen Ellyn-based conservation group has with DuPage County won't be renewed. The group educates residents about the value of being environmentally responsible.
    Daily Herald file photo


A Glen Ellyn-based conservation group is in jeopardy of losing nearly half its budget if DuPage County terminates a long-running contract for environmental programming.

Representatives with Schools and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education, or SCARCE, say they fear the county won't renew an agreement that pays the group $155,750 a year to do a variety of programs, including hosting large recycling events and helping businesses and public entities become more eco-friendly.

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SCARCE founder and Executive Director Kay McKeen said she was "surprised" to find out in March that county funding may not be available once the existing contract expires on June 30.

"If you said to me that the county was planning to reduce the funding by 10 percent, that would not be a surprise," said McKeen, who started the group in 1990. "But a total no money (scenario) was the surprise."

McKeen said the money SCARCE receives through DuPage's economic development and planning fund is a significant portion of the group's $325,000 annual budget. The group will continue to get $63,000 through the county's stormwater fund, in addition to revenue it receives through private donations.

County board member Jeff Redick said there simply isn't enough money in the economic development and planning fund to support SCARCE though Nov. 30, which is when the county's fiscal year ends. So money would have to be found elsewhere in the county's budget to pay for extending the contract.

On Tuesday, a group of SCARCE employees and supporters urged Redick and other members of the board's environmental committee to find a way for DuPage to continue its financial support of the group.

Downers Grove resident Hilary Denk said DuPage's relationship with SCARCE is "a testament" to what the county has been doing to spearhead the green movement.

"This is a priority for the county," Denk said. "So I encourage you to continue the funding. I'd love to see the funding increase, frankly. I think their reach could be even better and greater."

Two county board members agreed that DuPage should continue to financially support SCARCE, even if it means dipping into cash reserves to pay for it.

"We have the money," board member Dirk Enger said. "It's: 'Can we justify the program?' And I think they more than justify the program."

Board member Robert Larsen said there's no question that SCARCE does great work. But he doesn't support the idea of spending reserve cash.

Instead, Larsen said officials need to explore whether there's a business model that would allow SCARCE to operate without as much financial support from the county.

"If the answer is 'no' but we get great results from the funding we do, we need to contemplate that," Larsen said. "If the answer is 'yes,' then we need to look at ways that we can do this better."

Board member William Bedrossian said be believes SCARCE could develop a "social enterprise" model, where businesses or schools pay the group a fee to do an energy audit or provide tips on how to recycle and reduce garbage collection costs.

In the meantime, Bedrossian told SCARCE representatives that he understands their concerns. But the county can't fund the group forever, he said.

"It's not an issue of the quality of the work that you're doing or who you are," Bedrossian said. "It's an economic issue that needs to be addressed.

"Going forward, I think there are other solutions," he added. "And I think the board needs to be seriously looking at those other alternatives."

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