Durango City Council may recommit tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to nonprofits in 2020 with new criteria to make it easier for the organizations to leverage those funds.
More than half a dozen local nonprofit executives, facilitated by United Way of Southwest Colorado, wrote City Council a public letter this month in response to an almost $130,000 decrease in funding for Durango’s Community Support Funding Program last year. More than half of the money cut in the austerity measure – $80,000 – came from a Community Support Grant Program.
United Way of Southwest Colorado manages the Community Support Grant Program using criteria established by the city in 2015 – rules that could use some work, the collective of nonprofits said in the letter.
The nonprofit partnership suggested the city make its rules about nonprofits receiving just one source of city support more lenient. The restriction has effectively barred nonprofits with $1 per year leases on city property – like Manna soup kitchen and the Volunteers of America Durango Community Shelter – from receiving city dollars.
Local donors give millions to Durango nonprofits – but the total contributions from private individuals and organizations are dwarfed by the money leveraged from grants.
“Although these funds (from the city) only make up approximately 1.1% of our overall budgets on average, we do rely on these funds to make specific things happen,” nonprofit partners wrote in the public letter. “For example, at least four of the funded nonprofits traditionally leveraged approximately $79,000 in city awards into an additional $385,000 in outside funds.”
Local nonprofits also want less rigid requirements for how to use grants from the city. Criteria now require taxpayer dollars be used to benefit city residents through a specific program with detailed and measured results. Nonprofit leaders are seeking a more outcome-based system of accountability.
“A lot of support has not been focused on community local outcomes,” Lynn Urban, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado, said Tuesday evening. “The idea is that this funding at this time could support a community level outcome – it would take time to get there.”
While the city manager’s office proposes the annual budget, City Council approves it. Councilor Kim Baxter challenged her colleagues at a study session Tuesday “to come to a consensus around outcomes” and figure out “our benchmark and where do we want to be.”
City staff began drafting the 2020 budget earlier this year and are scheduled to present a proposal to City Council on Oct. 1.
City Council did not make a decision about funding for nonprofits this week. But it did support providing more taxpayer resources to social services organizations and rewriting criteria for funding to make it more available to more organizations for more purposes.
The city gave more than $9.5 million to local nonprofits in the past decade, according to city documents. But in 2015, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake said City Council asked staff to change how it administers nonprofit support. The move gave United Way of Southwest Colorado authority to distribute $220,000 based on city criteria.
The change was embodied in a Human Service Block Grant that United Way of Southwest Colorado applied for each year. Last year, for the 2019 budget, City Council decided to offer United Way of Southwest Colorado a contract rather than ask the nonprofit to apply for funding it got every year, Blake said.
But the amount of funding available for the contract decreased by more than half in the 2019 proposed and balanced budget, from $220,000 to $105,000. City staff, by the time the budget was adopted by City Council, increased the fund by $35,000 to the amount finally approved, $140,000.
Councilors agreed Tuesday to return funding to 2018 levels. At least some of the money should be awarded to organizations committed to addressing homelessness, they said.
“We’re hiring experts, that’s what this is,” Baxter said of supporting nonprofits with city dollars. “This is not our expertise.”