For the first time in its history, the City of Coronado has a Community Grants Policy. At its meeting on Tuesday evening, the council voted to reform its grant application process by establishing a funding formula for grants along with eligibility and accountability requirements and procedures. The vote was 5-0.
The types of organizations that qualify under the new rules are those that “promote economic development, social services, arts, community pride and a sense of place,” according to the policy’s mission statement. All organizations must be nonprofit, based in Coronado and be engaged in activities that benefit the residents. Approved activities include historic preservation and education, cultural events, parades and mental health enrichment for family and youth.
It was the activities category that generated the most public input. A half a dozen speakers came forward to advocate a special category, not only for these services, but for a specific organization – Coronado SAFE.
SAFE’s Executive Director, Georgia Ferrell, told the city council that the new policy would “have profound effects on SAFE because what is excluded [from the list of activities] is rent and salaries. These are notoriously difficult to fund raise for.” The organization has seven staff and is looking to add more councilors to expand its services.
Ferrell also objected to the audit requirements for groups receiving large sums of money from the city. SAFE received $130,000 from the city in 2016 and 2017. She told the council that “an independent audit might exceed the funds received.” Mayor Richard Bailey later said that the city would pay for the audits for all organizations that had to submit one, generally those who ask for more that $75,000.
Using the specter of the Parkland school shooting, SAFE supporters implored the council to put the organization’s needs above everything else and do everything in its power to keep SAFE solvent. To some who spoke little else mattered.
“If a school shooting occurred here everything else would be off the docket, the sewers, the Fourth of July parade,” said haberdasher Rich Brady. “This chamber would be filled with people demanding to know what you did to prevent it.”
The organization does have broad support in the community and on the city council. Councilman Bill Sandke threatened not to vote for the new policy unless it contained a “carve out” for SAFE. Councilwoman Carrie Downey also expressed her strong support for the organization. “You have two votes not ready to go forward,” she said.
Instead of derailing a vote on the policy, Bailey suggested discussing ways to ensure SAFE receives adequate funding at a council meeting in the near future. It wasn’t clear whether the discussion would happen before the new budget is approved in May, however with the strong support expressed on the dais for some kind of an accommodation, the council most likely will discuss it before then.
In making a commitment to fund SAFE at the same level it has in the past, the council made clear that it didn’t intend to abridge its fiduciary responsibilities. Bailey reminded people that was one of the main reasons for reforming the program.
“We do not have limitless resources,” he said. Something that was underscored earlier in the evening by the city treasurer’s report. It projected increased expenses over the next five years with pensions expected to rise by 8.8% from $4.9 million to $6.9 million.
By holding the amount offered to specific percentages of the city’s general funds, the city council created “a funding formula that will be sustainable for the long-term,” Bailey said.
It creates incremental reductions until community grants account for one-percent of the city’s budget. This year the percentage will be 1.75%. The idea is to keep the amount of money the city sets aside for community organizations at one million. Last year it gave out just under that amount. The figure will be slightly skewed for the next two years because last year the city council promised the Coronado Historical Association some $300 thousand for the next three fiscal years.
Instead of having one million dollars to spend, the council will only have around $600,000, leaving the pie smaller for everyone else. The money for the CHA was awarded to help it buy the building where it is housed.
This agreement no doubt created some of the anxiety among SAFE supporters. But as Downey made clear, the community nonprofits should not expect the city to foot the full bill for everything an organization needs.
She has long called for some kind of matching scheme to determine how much to give each group, using how much an organization raises as a barometer of how important the organization is to the community. “I have long said, we are not your budget.”