Wednesday, November 29, 2023

‘Why not use it all?’ NHC commissioners question noncounty agency funding recommendations

NHC commissioner Jonathan Barfield asks the noncounty agency funding committee why they did not allocate all $1.5 million to eligible nonprofits.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — County commissioners presented a $1.5-million budget for nonprofit grants and were disappointed when the committee charged to oversee the program “left money on the table.”

Annually, New Hanover County allocates money specifically to nonprofits in the area and commissioners appoint a non-county-staff committee to make suggestions on the allocations.

READ MORE: Good Shepherd to receive $336K from city property sales, federal funds

None of the 64 applications that submitted a request for money received their full ask. Thirty-eight agencies applied for funding across 42 programs, totaling $2.5 million. The maximum allowed solicitation is $50,000.  

Of those requests, the noncounty agency funding committee — comprising six members — found $1.8 million to be suitable for a portion of the money. Yet, the committee wanted to take an “equitable” approach to doling out the funds and created a tiered system for determining how much to give to each organization. Seven entities received nothing and $25,558 was not used.

Clare Kelly presented the committee’s recommendations to New Hanover County Commissioners Monday.

“Our work was not always easy,” she said. “New Hanover County is home to many dynamic organizations with deeply committed staff and volunteers. We did have some challenges.”

The top 10 awards received $45,000 each:

  • Good Shepherd for permanent supportive housing
  • Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity to build 10 affordable homes in Haven
  • Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. for expanding its support resources
  • Cape Fear Council of Governments for scattered permanent supportive housing
  • Communities in Schools for its integrated student supports
  • Coastal Horizons’ reentry systems
  • Cape Fear Clinic’s pharmacy services
  • Blue Ribbon Commission Prevention of Youth Violence for its summer employment program and youth enrichment zone
  • Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern N.C. toward Project Learn
  • YMCA of Southeastern N.C. for its second-grade swim initiative

The committee created criteria to base recommendations on: alignment with the county’s strategy and the agency’s mission and capability; collaborative efforts; impact of the program; demonstrated program outcomes; and if the recommended program fills a gap in service.

“We all wish we had more money and could do more, but some things had to be put in place and done early on by the committee,” Kelly said.

The money must be used for a program or service, supplies, tools, materials and some salaries. It cannot be given out as a pass-through grant, or used for marketing, capital expenditures or overhead.

The applications were divided into three tiers; 27 applications received 90% of funding considered eligible. Twenty-two programs earned 75% of eligible funding.

“You definitely have been listening to our board in regard to funding priorities for nonprofits we believe in,” commissioner Jonathan Barfield said. “But you left money on the table. We allocated $1.5 million. Why not use all of it?”

Kelly said the committee wanted to be consistent in how it scored all the applications.

“This is how the numbers fell out,” she said.

“You realize it’s OK to spend the money, right?” Barfield asked. “Our goal was to spend those resources.”

Barfield continued: “If my need is $50 and I get $40, I still have a need. I have to figure out how to get that part of my mission fulfilled. I suggest we fund less but have a greater impact.”

Commissioner Rob Zapple agreed. The approach could discourage nonprofits from applying in the future, he indicated.

“The message it sends to many nonprofits is: ‘Tell us what you need and explain why you need it,’” he said. “You’re asking them in inference to sharpen their pencils but then turn around and make a decision that it doesn’t matter if you really do all the work and have been. You’re still given 90%.”

On the other hand, commissioner Dane Scalise commended the committee for its even-handed approach and doing exactly what was asked: “to spend no more than this amount.”

Kelly said a lot of the criteria used by the committee were based on precedence. The county has been doling out noncounty agency funding using a committee since fiscal year 2018 but awarding money to nonprofits has been a part of NHC’s budget for many years, spokesperson Alex Riley confirmed. The amount given remained roughly the same at least since 2019.

Last fiscal year, $1.6 million was requested by agencies and $1.2 million was awarded. 

County manager Chris Coudriet confirmed there are general parameters set each year to model the prior year’s spending.

“I think, unleash yourself when it comes to this,” Zapple said. “It catches my eye when you said $1.7 million was in eligible funding. OK, let’s use that.”

Included in fiscal year 2023 was $281,939 to the county’s social impact fund pilot program, a three-year plan specifically tied to three organizations — Child Development Center, Coastal Horizons and Phoenix Employment Services — advanced through the county’s strategic goals. 

The pilot is ending this year because of additional funding opportunities not in place when the social impact fund was established.

Riley pointed to examples such as New Hanover County Endowment, the county’s capacity building grants, mental and behavioral health escrow, opioid settlement funds and ARPA.

This year was unique as well, since the commissioners incorporated $1.2 million for capacity building grants, being administered by United Way and a community volunteer committee. Capacity building grants were awarded in April; 24 organizations received from $2,000 to $150,000.

The county commissioners will have to approve the recommended spending, and Zapple implied they will likely divy up the remaining funds as they see fit. Noncounty agency funding will be approved with the fiscal year 2024 budget, $590 million in total, in June.

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