NPOs offer feedback on public service grant process
When representatives from more than 50 local nonprofit organizations left last month’s meeting of the Public Service Grants Council (PSGC), they took back to their respective agencies an approval of $2.5 million in appropriations for FY 2009-10. The appropriation recommendations were sent to the mayor’s office for inclusion in the 2009-10 City budget that will be presented to City Council in September.
After the glow from the intial part of the meeting had faded, questions began arising among the organizations as to how appropriations were evaluated and awarded, as well as the definition of “level funding.” The conversation reached a new level between the nonprofits, PSGC members and the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida that representatives from 26 public service grant applicant agencies gathered at the Nonprofit Center June 2 to share their opinions and concerns.
At Tuesday’s PSGC meeting at the Ed Ball Building, Rena Coughlin, executive director of the Nonprofit Center, summed up the reaction of the agencies.
“There was a feeling that the process may have been confusing to many of the nonprofit organizations,” she said. “They didn’t understand the scoring system or the audit noncompliance standards. “They were told to ask for level funding (compared to FY 2008-09) but some didn’t and the across-the-board cut affected organizations differently.”
Coughlin also said, “We need a better understanding of how organizations are judged.”
The June 2 meeting led to a letter from Coughlin to PSGC chair Alberta Hipps, which pointed out the confusion over the “level funding” issue and stated in part that the “Preliminary allocation process inadvertently gave a funding advantage to those programs requesting increases in their funding. At the mandatory public service grant training held by City staff in February, attendees were told to limit their funding requests to level funding or risk disfavor in scoring. When the public service grant Council used across-the-board paring, it had the unintended consequences of cutting those programs that moderated their original requests and rewarding those that asked for largest increases. This sets a precedent for agencies to ask for the maximum amount of funding in the future, regardless of need, to soften the blow of across-the-board paring.”
PSGC member Ron Mallet, who attended the June 2 meeting as the sole representative of the PSGC, commented that “level funding” referred to the total amount of funds in the proposed budget allocated for public service grants, and with more agencies applying this year than last, “We’re $450,000 short of being able to fund organizations at last year’s level.”
The nonprofit organizations suggested suspending the preliminary allocation decisions made last month and using “the months ahead while the mayor develops and submits his budget and the City Council vets and approves a final version ... (to) develop an allocation process that holds harmless those organizations that complied with the staff directive to limit their funding requests to level funding.”
Mallett said, “We can’t change what we’ve done,” then suggested the solution is to suggest seeking additional public service grant funding in the new City budget.
“We appreciate the input from the organizations,” said PSGC member John Donahoo. “I agree we should ask for additional funding. We should point out to the mayor that the allocation to public service grants was woefully underfunded, particularly in this economy.”
Roslyn Phillips, director of Recreation and Community Services for the City, commented as well, “There is no entitlement to a public service grant for any agency. While some agencies have been funded for many years, each year is a competitive process.”
She added that organizations were told there would be level funding in terms of the total amount appropriated for public service grants.
“In the future we’ll videotape the training sessions,” said Hipps.
The organizations also suggested creating an advisory board made up of nonprofit agencies to help develop best practices and outcomes measurements, which the council members agreed is a suggestion that should be sent to the administration.
After the meeting adjourned, Hipps commented that the process for evaluating applications for public service grants has drastically changed since the PSGC was formed by action of City Council in 2007. She added the City’s revenue environment has also changed substantially since she served on Council from 1995-2003 and the Council determined which agencies would receive public service grants as their share of City funds.
“Back then there was enough money to send school crossing guards to Washington, D.C. every year,” said Hipps.
The Public Service Grant Council’s next meeting is July 21 at 10 a.m. on the 6th floor conference room of the Ed Ball Building on Hogan Street.
Members of the Public Service Grant Council
Appointed by mayor and confirmed by City Council:
Alberta Hipps (chair)
Appointed by City Council: