Panelists stand by charity budget

Sean C. Morgan

The city of Sweet Home Budget Committee voted 7-2 to uphold its decision to provide funding from the city to local charities, and approved 8-1 a recommendation for the 2011-12 budget to the City Council on May 11.

Mayor Craig Fentiman, a member of the committee, had raised concerns about the decision during the previous week’s budget meeting.

The committee rejected Fentiman’s motion to withdraw all of the changes the Budget Committee had made to the budget proposed by staff. The total amount was $33,000, including charitable donations and restoring city programs. He told the Budget Committee that the intent was to clear the slate and perhaps approach the expenditures a different way.

Al Culver joined him in support of the motion. Voting no on the motion in favor of retaining the expenditures were Rich Rowley, Jim Gourley, Dave Trask, Dave Holley, Scott McKee Jr., Greg Mahler and Marybeth Angulo.

Absent members included Ron Rodgers, Chuck Begley, Stephanie Boccardo and Greg Korn.

Following the decision, the committee approved the budget, including the donations and restored programs. Only Fentiman dissented.

The budget moves next to the City Council for adoption prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The proposed new expenditures include $5,000 each to Sweet Home Emergency Ministries and the HOPE Center; $3,000 to the Children’s Food Pak program; $10,000 to School District 55 to operate the pool over the summer; $5,000 to the City Council’s community grants program, which had been reduced to zero in the staff proposal; and an additional $5,000 for the summer recreation program, which staff had cut to $6,000.

The School District had requested $6,000 from the City Council for pool operations over the summer. None of the other entities requested funding.

The money was subtracted from funds to be saved in the city’s building reserve fund, reducing the amount from $345,000 to $312,000.

Culver and Begley wrote letters to the Budget Committee suggesting that cash for donations be awarded, following a set of guidelines, by the council. Begley identified the council’s community grants program as a good way to do it and said he wouldn’t support the donations unless they go through such a process.

Holley, who proposed the donations to SHEM, the HOPE Center and the Food Pak program, said he agreed with Culver that there be rules and guidelines, perhaps having the council choose them before the Budget Committee even meets.

Trask challenged Fentiman’s comment a week earlier that some taxpayers may not approve of using the money this way. He then asked what it would mean if he, a taxpayer, didn’t want public funds spent on a new City Hall.

City officials initiated discussions about a new City Hall last year, but have said that building a new City Hall would be years in the future. The building reserve fund has approximately $1.4 million saved.

“Our last meeting, we received four separate requests for inclusion of funding,” Holley said. They included the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation, the Foster School 21st Century Community Schools After School Program, the Senior Alcohol Free Entertainment party and Sunshine Industries.

The Boys and Girls Club submitted a fifth request on May 11 for help with work at the Roy Johnston baseball complex.

While he has worked with some of the organizations and supports what they do, he said that Sunshine Industries was the only one in his judgment that would qualify for assistance from the Budget Committee.

The Budget Committee took no action on any of the requests.

Mahler said the committee talked about and established the community grants program a couple of years ago, and a lot of these requests and the donations would fall under those guidelines.

The grants program was intended to be available to help close funding gaps in projects, to help them leverage money from other sources, said City Manager Craig Martin. The council has had two cycles per year, with $2,500 available in $500 increments to applicants.

“I look at all these requests we have, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go very far,” Angulo said.

Holley said the committee has limited authority over city budgeting but charity is one area where it can make a difference.

“I’ve known for years that this Budget Committee can only control so many things in the budget,” he said, noting that everything from Department of Environmental Quality requirements to labor contracts control how large portions of the budget are set.

“I can expound all I want about the cost. I can’t control it.”

The committee can control its reserve program and how much money is used, he said. “While I think it’s very important we do these savings, we can’t forget the community. They’ve been addressed in this budget before.”

Two years ago, the committee gave a $5,000 donation to SHEM.

Holley said he agrees that the city should follow some process instead of someone coming in, shooting from the hip and stirring up the committee, he said.

Quoting an opinion piece he read on the Web, “we sit at an intersection,” he said. “We know what’s out there, and it’s not much.”

The legislature is considering cuts that would travel to the local level, he said. In another piece, he read that at a time like this, the “last thing they would consider doing is kicking out the weakest member of the family.”

The committee isn’t talking about funding a large project or large organization, he said. “We’re talking about $33,000.”

The general fund has some $3.15 million, he said, and he compared it to the funds that will still go to the building reserve fund, $312,000.

“I look at the difference from last year, and I can see a fast track to a new City Hall,” Holley said.

In 2010-11, the city transferred $430,000. In 2009-10, the city transferred $178,000. In 2008-09, the city transferred $300,000.

“Surely, we can put $5,000 to a women’s shelter,” Holley said. “We have to do the big things, but we need to do the little things.”

Trask agreed.

“It bothers me that we can’t spend a pittance,” he said. “There are people in need in town. It’s a miniscule amount of money compared to $345,000. These are great things to do.”

He said he doesn’t know if the community knows what the city is putting away, he said. “To me, we’re not being frugal. I disagree with a new City Hall. I would never vote for that.”

Putting the donations in question into the grants program would be fine with him, Trask said.

“That somebody in a leadership role would come out and say that (suggest cutting the donations), that bothers me,” Trask said. “We’re here to help these folks.”

Fentiman defended himself, saying that he’s not as opposed to the end result as he is to the process.

“The first thing I said, if you read the (newspaper) article, all these things are worthwhile,” he said. “We now have eight programs asking for funding.”

To make the proposed donations more appropriate, Fentiman said, the committee should put them in the grants program.

A new City Hall is at least 10 to 15 years out, he said.

The existing City Hall is 57 years old.

The ultimate goal is to save the money to pay for a new City Hall and avoid borrowing to build it, Fentiman said, and he moved to reset the budget, indicating that following that, the committee could put the funds in question into the grants program.

Gourley said the committee should proceed with the grants and change the process next year.

“I don’t believe we should just stop doing what we are doing as far as this motion,” he said.

He added that the city does need a new building, and Holley concurred.

“I don’t want to go back to the days we had a tarp over City Hall,” he said.

McKee said he didn’t support the motion but supported revamping the grants program.

“When we made that original motion, I walked out proud,” McKee said. “And the only reason I’m sitting here today is because people cared, teachers, like Linda Holley.”

Just because someone from the outside, referring to employees who had observed the meetings, show up at a meeting, he is not going to change his vote, McKee said. “I’m disgusted.”

The committee turned down Fentiman’s motion and then approved the budget recommendation with the charitable contributions.

At the end of the meeting, Holley announced that he was retiring from the Budget Committee and city’s Appeals Board.

“I think the time has come to pass the torch,” he said, after serving some 25 years.

For more information about the budget or to see a copy of the budget, visit City Hall at 1140 12th Ave.