Fact: Nonprofit organizations enrich our community in many ways.
During my hikes, I regularly meet new arrivals who have relocated to Durango. Almost invariably, we end up talking about the special environment that is Durango, from services, arts, food, etc.
We have so much and truly live large in this small community.
That comes with a cost and we give big by volunteering and contributing.
That is a wonderful Durango legacy.
We also like to talk about “Does Durango have too many nonprofits?“
Those very nonprofits form the core of our social activity. I suspect most readers have attended a nonprofit fundraiser in the last six months. I know for a fact that many of you volunteer for nonprofits and some of you even serve on boards.
In my world, Durango is a better place with nonprofits serving virtually all of our community from youth to seniors, children, women and men; and from mainstream to diversity; education to human services; and more. In other words, all of us.
In the fall of 2018, the city of Durango radically changed its relationship with the nonprofits it historically funds.
The city slashed funding by 40% from past years while city departments suffered no meaningful cuts in funding.
The city also changed the rules by which it funds the nonprofits, resulting in some previously funded organizations ruled ineligible for funding and others not bothering to apply under the new, punitive rules.
Probably the most shocking change was a new rule under which neither the homeless shelter nor Manna soup kitchen are eligible for cash funding.
That’s right, even as the homeless issue is in the forefront of the press, government, business and churches, the city chose to eliminate funding to Manna and the Durango Community Shelter.
You may not know, but those two organizations operate on city-owned land. Over many years – 30 for the homeless shelter – each program has invested literally millions in capital improvements on that city-owned land for which they will never receive repayment. It has all been about service to the community, in partnership with the city – until now.
I believe the city made a big mistake.
The city funded 22 nonprofits for $ 220,000 in 2018. It funded 17 nonprofits for $140,000 in 2019, a cut of 40%.
At the same time, the general fund budget increased 6.7%.
I estimate those 22 nonprofits provided over $8 million in services to this community each year. Talk about leveraging your tax dollars, that is a huge return on investment resulting in vitally needed services.
That is an investment in our fellow citizens.
Today is a new day and much of a new City Council. Change is possible.
On Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. in City Hall, City Council will hold a study session addressing its relationship with its nonprofit partners. My hope is that several favorable decisions will result:
Restore funding to the same amount funded in 2016, 2017 and 2018: $ 220,000.Correct misguided rules adopted in 2018. Specifically, a rule denying funding to the Manna Soup Kitchen and the Volunteers of America Durango Community Shelter. Also, a rule banning city funds to be used for operations and another denying funding to organizations that cannot prove city residency for their clients even when jointly funded by the county.If you find these issues to be important, please contact your city councilors and/or attend the City Council study session on Sept. 10.
I am proud that during my career, I have served in the nonprofit community and the city of Durango.
I think the city made a mistake and I believe this City Council will correct those mistakes.
Please let your councilors know what you think about this issue. I believe they will welcome hearing from you.
Together, we can keep Durango as this wonderful and rich community we all value.
John Gamble is the former division director of Southwest Colorado Volunteers of America. He lives in Durango.