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City Council Special Budget Session, June 23rd – Continued

 

Non-profits Organizations

City of ClarksvilleClarksville, TN – As you may recall, I had requested that Mayor McMillan establish a committee or review of how the city determined and funded non-profit requests shortly after she took office.  The amounts given and the organizations that received funding was historically a closed effort.  The same basic groups kept receiving the funding. 

Then it seemed that in recent years one group or another would be added without any set guidelines as to why they should be allowed to compete when others were not.  My goal was to change this process before the mayor submitted her first budget.

A number of ward residents have asked me why do we fund non-profits at all and shouldn’t we end the process of using taxpayer money to support something not associated with the city.  It must also be understood that the council, as a whole, has not historically supported ending financial support to non-profits.  This was proven again Thursday evening as a motion to remove all non-profit funding from those that had competed and redirect that funding to pave more city streets was defeated in a 5-yes and 8-no vote.

As you will note, that were 13 votes.  As I recall, the mayor voted to retain non-profit funding for those particular organizations although she has raised the issue that additional street paving is needed now and in the future.  I have supported some non-profit funding in the past, but have had issues with some organizations and the process as a whole.  However, in this budget I was not supportive of giving any funding to non-profits that had no affiliation with the city, in light that the city is borrowing $2.7 million to continue operations.  I also voted yes to move that non-profit funding to city street paving.

I need to further explain my statement of non-profits that are not affiliated with the city.  Three non-profits are city related and they are the Customs House Museum, Ajax Senior Center and the Arts & Heritage Commission.  Due to the city affiliation of these organizations, the committee decided that the full council should determine their funding.  Thus, they were excluded from competing with non-profits that had no ties to city operations.

The museum is basically considered a quasi-city entity by the IRS due to its mission and approximately 50% funding provided by the city.  The museum facility is city owned and the old Post Office building is a historical building and part of the museum itself.  The museum facility also provides meeting space for city needs and assists in city projects such as the historical and informational design of the Fort Defiance project.

The senior center is owned by the city and is basically a care and recreational facility for seniors.  The city fully funds recreation centers for children through Parks & Rec, but does not provide anything for seniors.  The senior center is a cost effective way for the city to provide a recreational facility for older residents. 

The Arts & Heritage Commission was sponsored by the city years ago and created as a non-profit entity that would work for grants that would be spent for events and activities in the local area dealing with the arts, literature, music, etc.  The city funds a part-time position and some admin support that works these efforts.

When the mayor set up the non-profit committee, I was included as a member.  Our mission was to set up rules and procedures by which the city could open the non-profit process to all that might be interested, determine selection guidelines, formulate measures and develop a funding approach for those that were selected.  Council members Allen (chairman), Jones, and Harris were also members.  While the committee would do all the “grunt work”, the selections and money allocations would only be recommendations to the full council during the budget process.  They could accept them as suggested, adjust where desired or trash can everything we did.

To start this new process, we asked the City Finance Department to advertise that the committee would accept ALL applications from interested non-profits seeking city funding.  Second, Finance would ensure that all non-profit qualifications and package materials were in good order for the committee to review.  The committee, before reviewing, set up categories to evaluate the non-profit submissions by.  Third, all interested non-profits were required to provide an in-person presentation to the committee and answer any questions we may have.  If a non-profit did not provide a presentation, they were eliminated from further consideration.  As the presentations were conducted, the committee members began the scoring process.  Many hours were spent in studying the non-profit submissions before the presentations and the committee attended over three hours of presentations.

As part of the rules on how to evaluate the non-profits, the committee developed a process to determine the amount of money that would be available.  I had suggested looking at the past three years and establishing an average percentage of money provided to non-profits in comparison the total city budget.  The committee agreed to this and the amount of non-profit funding over those years represented less than .02% of the total city budget.  By using that percentage against this year’s projected budget the amount available was a little over $110,000.  This amount would be split 75%-25% into two categories.  The 25% would go to any non-profits that were considered arts & heritage related, such as the Roxy Theater, and the rest would go to all others.  By using this percentage approach, as future budgets go up or down then the amount of money available for non-profits goes up and down accordingly.  The trend in non-profit funding had been only going up over the years.  This approach of using an average actually lowered the amount to be used in the new budget from last year’s budget.

When the committee met to finalize and tabulate the scoring of the non-profit entries, we developed a method that would allocate specific amount of dollars for each point scored in the composite average.  Then with everything in place, we totaled and averaged scores of the committee members and allocated money.  Councilman Harris was absent from this important allocation meeting.  Due to not providing a presentation or scoring less than a 50 (out of 100) on the scoring evaluation, several non-profits were eliminated from funding consideration, including the Humane Society.

Only a few non-profits got the full amount of funding they requested and that was due to them asking for small amounts.  The largest award was $10,000 to a non- arts & heritage type function.  The largest A&H award was just over $27,000 to the Roxy (they had requested more).  The Roxy would have received less if another non-profit has scored above 50 in that category and if there had been more entries.

Two attempts to change the committee’s recommendations were made during this budget round.  One was the diversion of these funds to the Street Dept, that I mentioned earlier, and the second was by Councilman Harris who made a motion to give the Humane Society $15,000.  Harris stated this was a worthy cause and that implementing this new non-profit funding process only three months before the budget process was unfair.  He had stated this several times at the committee meetings. His thoughts seem to be that, if non-profits had been relying on the city to fund a major portion of their activities, then any loss or reduction of funding due to this new process was unfair and that we should have waited until next year.  We had actually been trying to change the process for several years.

Harris’ statement seemed to enforce the notion that non-profits were “entitled” to taxpayer funding only because they had received it in the past.  In fact, some supporters of one non-profit, that did not receive any funding this year, echoed a very similar sentiment.  It may have been a rude awakening for some, but no non-profit is entitled to taxpayer money.   Harris’ motion failed by a 6-yes & 7-no vote.  I voted “no” and I believe the mayor voted “yes”.

At least through the first vote, the council has accepted the recommendations of the non-profit committee.

More to come later


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