City mulls policy on nonprofit funding
It’s no secret that city funding of nonprofit agencies has sometimes been controversial in recent years.
The City Council’s 2011 decision to provide $32,000 to the Friends of John Coltrane without initially clarifying whether it was a loan or a grant caused a stir. The council’s granting free use of the city-owned High Point Theatre to the N.C. Shakespeare Festival also has drawn scrutiny, given that organization’s financial woes.
The council is poised to approve a policy that would aim to defuse the contentiousness and clear up the confusion by setting up procedures for vetting nonprofit requests.
Councilman Jim Davis proposed establishing a four-person oversight committee of council members to process the requests. Davis said funding requests now often go straight to City Manager Strib Boynton, bypassing the council altogether.
“I feel like it’s unfair to Strib that he has to be the front man. People come and bend his ear all the time,” Davis said. “While the current method of handling requests for funds has been in place for many years, it has become obsolete and needs to change.”
Another goal is to establish criteria for what types of projects are suitable for public funding, he said.
Davis said he believes nonprofit programs that improve public safety, promote safe and stable neighborhoods, “enhance High Point’s brand” and that have a “demonstrated and appropriate need for tax dollars” are the types of agencies that warrant city funding.
The council has given its tentative blessing to the idea of an oversight committee, which would be made up of Davis and council members Jeff Golden, Britt Moore and Jay Wagner. A formal vote is expected once the details of a policy are drafted.
Davis has suggested the framework of a policy that would require a formal application for nonprofit funding requests.
The oversight committee would work with senior city staff in processing the request and presenting it to the full council, which would approve or reject it, under the proposal.
If the request is approved, Boynton would be directed to fund it from a specific budget account or line item. The committee would also work with city staff to determine how much money to include for nonprofit funding in the city budget each year.
City officials said nonprofits already are required to submit audited financial statements when they make their funding requests, which usually are made prior to the council’s adoption of the city budget each June.
Davis’ proposal would keep this time frame in place and prevent grants from being awarded after budget adoption, which he said “weakens the City Council and staff’s credibility and challenges the integrity of the budget process.”
Davis said he believes nonprofit requests submitted after the budget is adopted should only be approved in “very unusual circumstances.”
He appears to have support for the proposal from a majority of the council.
“I think the reality is, what we’ve seen is, more and more organizations go straight to Strib and bypass the council, and I don’t think that’s good,” said Councilwoman Becky Smothers. “I think we’re getting it after the fact, and it puts him in a spot — ‘I have to find where I can yank this money from.’”
Mayor Bernita Sims also voiced support for the policy, but said she thinks the entire council — and not just the oversight committee — should have a say in nonprofit requests.
“I think all of us need to be involved in the conversation,” Sims said.
The city of High Point’s 2013-14 budget includes $338,563 in funding for nine nonprofit groups.
• Piedmont Triad Ambulance and Rescue: $3,000
• National Guard: $2,500
• Guilford County Historic Preservation Commission: $2,000
• Theatre Art Galleries: $31,000
• High Point Area Arts Council: $117,063
• N.C. Shakespeare Festival: $50,000 (in the form of theater rental credit)
• Piedmont Triad Partnership: $10,000
• Southwest Renewal Foundation: $23,000
• Community Resource Network: $100,000