Is there such a thing as bad money turning good?

If you pay taxes in Whitman County, the answer probably is “yes.”

Last week, Whitman County commissioners announced it will be allocating $1.6 million in economic development funds to a pair of projects ­ ­— logic alert ­­— actually developing the economy.

Until last week, much of that money was sitting idle, stored for a suitor who came calling but never could commit.

The money, part of the so-called “.09 fund,” is generated from the state’s local sales tax receipts and must be used for public facilities or staff positions that contribute to a county’s economic development.

For several years, the county held much of that money in reserve in case the county needed to make good on a commitment to provide cash to the Boise-based Hawkins Company, whose grand plans for a big-box retail development in the Pullman-Moscow corridor never materialized.

Hawkins — in part due to the 2009 economic downturn — abandoned the plans for the corridor development and sold the property last year.

That left $3 million without a home.

In January, the commissioners tabbed $1.4 million of that money to build a new grandstand at the Whitman County Fairgrounds.

The commissioners on Monday found two additional homes for the cash, allocating $1 million to the Port of Whitman County “rural fiber extension” project and $600,000 to the the ongoing runway realignment project at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport.

We’re struggling to find a better trio of beneficiaries for the frozen cash.

Upkeep of the county fairgrounds — home to the annual county fair and many other events — is key economically for the county and also preserves and protects the region’s health, vibrancy and sense of nostalgia. It’s a region folks want to move to, bringing their business and businesses with them.

The Port of Whitman’s rural fiber project will help connect and extend high-speed internet services to rural communities in the county. The internet is not so grand if you can’t get there. This move will help county residents do that.

The money earmarked for the airport will provide additional local matching dollars for the extensive and costly runway alignment, scheduled to be completed this fall and, when complete, should make the airport and the county more attractive to additional airline carriers.

For Whitman County residents, the release of the .09 funds was in many ways like finding $20 in the pocket of jeans you haven’t worn in years … which most of us would promptly spend on something frivolous like tacos.

Your county commissioners found millions, and they’ve chosen to use it more wisely.

-- Craig Staszkow, for the editorial board

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