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July 20, 2012

City Council reviews process for funding non-profits

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, July 19, 2012

The Charlottesville City Council held a work session Thursday to discuss changes to the process by which nonprofit social service agencies are funded.
 
20120719-budget-slide
A breakdown of this year's funding as recommended by Agency Budget Review Task Force (Credit: City of Charlottesville)
“I hope we establish clear, open procedures for the use of council priority funds for ‘pilot’ programs and initiatives,” City Councilor Kathy Galvin said.
 
The goal was to better align funding with the council’s priorities.
 
A group known as the agency budget review team reviews funding requests from nonprofit agencies. It consists of members from both Charlottesville and Albemarle County and makes recommendations for both jurisdictions.
 
In the current year, the council awarded $1.87 million to 25 nonprofits ranging from $14,581 for the Boys & Girls Club to nearly $200,000 for the Monticello Area Community Action Agency.
 
“When you’re looking at ABRT funding, it’s a fairly narrow slice of our overall budget,” Councilor Dave Norris said. He added that the city addresses many of these issues through its own agencies and departments.
 
The origins of the ABRT date back to the 1980s. The group began measuring outcomes in 2001 and an objective review tool was used for the first time in 2006.
 
“In 2011, when the economy was bad, Albemarle County came to us after the applications were received and asked us to prioritize funding because their money was so tight,” said Gretchen Ellis, a member of the ABRT.
 
The top three priorities in the previous year were programs that seek to ensure that community residents are physically and mentally healthy, that they are safe and have their basic needs met and that children in the community develop appropriately.
 
The bulk of the funding in the current year went towards child development and academic success ($839,094), followed by safety and needs ($675,908), followed by physical and mental health ($319,350).
 
The application for next year’s budget cycle will be released to agencies on Aug. 25.
 
Revisions to the process have provided a learning curve for many of the agencies.
 
“One of the things the application required was not only that [agencies] address one of those overarching priorities, but they identify at least two indicators that measure their priority,” Ellis said. “We would really be reluctant to fund a program that can’t show it can demonstrate its goals.”
 
After her first time going through the budget process, Galvin said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow that she wanted to review the process because it seemed to be skewed towards a certain type of program.
 
“The lion’s share of city funding seemed to be going towards programs that addressed the acute needs of low-income families in crisis, whereas a relatively smaller amount went towards enrichment, prevention or efforts to build pathways out of poverty,” Galvin said.
 
Galvin said she would prefer to fund programs that align with the council’s priority to reduce “poverty by increasing sustainable employment among less skilled and educated residents.”
 
After the work session, the city’s budget director, Leslie Beauregard, said the application will be changed to address Galvin’s concerns.
 
“We are going to be adding a fourth criteria around bringing people out of poverty through employment,” Beauregard said. “That will be the highest criteria next to the criteria services for children.”
 
Councilor Dede Smith said she wanted to have more information on what constitutes a “need.”
 
“One of my overarching concerns is this demonstration of need, and how do we know that unless we have the big picture of all the services that are being provided not just by the nonprofits in this process, but also by the city and the county,” Smith said.
 
City Manager Maurice Jones said it would take more than a month to create the matrix of needs that Smith requested.
 
“What you’re really looking for is some goals, objectives and data that would help us determine the gaps that are out there,” Jones said. “That will take some time to do.”
 
Smith said she wants that work to be completed.
 
“It’s a big task, but it could be incredibly valuable in so many cases, notably in a strategic plan,” Smith said. “It’s critical that we know what all the resources are.”
 
Jones said it was likely a third-party would have to be brought in to conduct that analysis. 
 

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