Mayor John Stromberg has proposed that the city of Ashland set aside $12,500 for start-up grants to fund projects that promote sustainability.

Mayor John Stromberg has proposed that the city of Ashland set aside $12,500 for start-up grants to fund projects that promote sustainability.

The money could be divided into five $1,000 grants and two $2,500 grants, with the remaining $2,500 used to cover administrative costs.

The city of Ashland uses part of its hotel tax revenues to fund economic and cultural development grants that have gone to groups like the Ashland Independent Film Festival, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and the Ashland Gallery Association.

Stromberg has proposed that the criteria for the economic and cultural development grants be expanded so that groups working on sustainability can also apply for funding.

In a memo sent to the Ashland City Council this week, Stromberg noted that some groups working on sustainability may already qualify to apply for the grants, but others may not.

The City Council will consider whether to expand the purpose of the economic and cultural development grants during its regular meeting that begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

"Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important focus for this community, both because of broadly held interest and felt need to make Ashland more sustainable, but also because being a recognized center for sustainability could benefit our visitor economy," Stromberg said in the memo to councilors.

Stromberg campaigned on a platform of promoting sustainability and took office as mayor in January 2009. He said he was also inspired to look into the issue of funding sustainability projects after political commentator and Ashland Daily Tidings columnist Jeff Golden challenged the city to provide $25,000 for small sustainability grants.

Sustainability is generally defined as using resources in a way that doesn't harm future generations' ability to survive.

Stromberg said sustainability projects could range from producing renewable energy to promoting alternative transportation to supporting local food production, composting and seed collecting.

But expanding the criteria to use hotel tax money on sustainability projects could cause controversy. Each year, economic and cultural groups ask for far more grant money than is available, meaning that most receive less than they request while others walk away empty-handed.

During the 2009 budget process, two-dozen groups asked for a total of $302,970 — even though the city had only $157,079 available.

There would be no shortage of groups working on sustainability that could potentially apply for grants.

The latest update of the Sustainability Inventory — which catalogues the efforts of local individuals and groups — has 175 entries, as Stromberg noted in his memo to the City Council.

Some of the groups that have won economic and cultural development grants in the past might also be able to qualify for sustainability grants.

For example, Thrive, which promotes sustainable businesses with an emphasis on locally produced food, was awarded $18,000 in 2009.

Local resident Catie Faryl, who is involved with various sustainability efforts, said sustainability groups could help round out Ashland's economy by providing green jobs and luring eco-tourists.

"Eco-tourism and green jobs have been floundering for a lack of seed money," she said.

Faryl said granting money to sustainability groups could complement city of Ashland efforts to use water appropriately, plan for different types of transportation, create parks, preserve open space, diversify the economy and create jobs.

She suggested the city government consider retaining some of the funding for itself in order to advance city programs.

David Wick, managing director for Ashland-based Triple Bottom Line for the 21st Century, said his nonprofit organization would be interested in applying for a sustainability grant.

The organization helps businesses expand the traditional monetary definition of success to include not just making a profit, but also using sustainable practices to protect the planet and making a commitment to the well-being of people, including workers and customers. Triple Bottom Line's funding comes from membership fees and private donations, but the nonprofit is also applying for various grants, Wick said.

He said if his organization received a grant, it would want to coordinate with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce to help businesses through seminars and one-on-one meetings.

Wick said he also wouldn't want to duplicate the efforts of the city of Ashland's Green Business program, which shows businesses how to be more environmentally friendly by taking steps like reducing energy use and waste.

He said he supports Stromberg's proposal to widen the use of city economic and cultural development grants. At the same time, Wick acknowledged the limited nature of the funding.

"We're at a time when we obviously have to be really smart about our resources and how to get the best out of them. People have a lot of good ideas. We need support for new approaches, new ideas that will enhance our sustainability and livability here. In general we need to be asking, 'How do we support those on the leading edge of moving us forward?' I think it's very important to do. It's a challenge when there's a certain pot to work from," Wick said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.