Pitco wonders where to spread the dough | AspenTimes.com

Pitco wonders where to spread the dough

Pitkin County’s elected leaders found out yesterday how sticky things can be in the world of nonprofit funding.

Flush with $800,000 in voter-approved funds for making grants to nonprofits and health and human service programs, the county commissioners stumbled over how the money should be spent.

The commissioners reviewed recommendations on how the new funds should be used with members of the Citizen Grant Review Committee. But after nearly an hour of discussion, the commissioners appeared further away than ever from appropriating the money to groups such as Mountain Valley Developmental Services, Youth Zone, Catholic Charities and the Nordic Trail Program.

Several commissioners took issue with a recommendation to donate $10,000 to Catholic Charities, which provides immigration and naturalization counseling, and some limited advocacy and referral services.

Shellie Roy, Jack Hatfield and Patti Clapper all expressed reservations about supporting the organization, at least until they have a better understanding of what it does for residents of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Roy, Hatfield, Clapper and Commissioner Mick Ireland also wondered why the Nordic program upped its request to Pitkin County by $5,000 after voters approved Referendum 1A. The ballot question authorizes the county to collect more property taxes, about $4.20 for every $100,000 in property value, to fund nonprofits and health and human services.

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Commissioner Dorothea Farris was not in attendance.

“Everybody’s making cuts,” Clapper said. “If the Nordic Council proposed them and when the question passed they unproposed them, we need to look at that.”

The Nordic Council, which maintains the cross-country trail system throughout the county, is funded through an agreement between Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and the town of Snowmass Village.

The Nordic Council upped its fund request at the end of the review process, according to Nan Sundeen, county director of health and human services and one of the staff members working with the citizen review committee.

The commissioners said they would need more information before authorizing $50,194 for the trail system.

“I didn’t think there was a whole lot of flexibility,” Hatfield said, explaining his reservations about giving the Nordic Council or any other group more than it received in the recent past.

Hatfield said he expects allocations to remain exactly as listed in a memo prepared for the commissioners last September.

“If 1A failed, those were the numbers that were lost, and if it passed those were the numbers that were saved,” he said.

County Manager Hilary Smith pointed out that the ballot language contained no specific amounts when it came to allocating the tax money, although it does limit the types of organizations that can receive funding.

The citizen advisory committee oversees the application process, considers various requests and makes recommendations to the county commissioners. The committee is made up of Pitkin County residents Sue Griffith, Paul Menter, Gayle Morgan, Kent Mueller, Debe Nelson and Hannah Ohlson.

One requirement for those seeking a seat on the committee was that they not sit on the board of any of the nonprofits that are applying for grants from the county.

“We went through the same discussion [the commissioners] did,” Mueller said after yesterday’s meeting.

Mueller said he and other committee members agonized over how to handle donations in a tough economic landscape.

After Commissioner Roy raised issue with recommendations to fund the Science Outreach Center, Valley Spellbinders, the Aspen Given Foundation and the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, Griffith said the county might be reaching too far with its funding.

“One question of mine was, ‘Are we trying to be all things for all people?'” Griffith said.

The Science Outreach Center, which puts on the well-regarded JASON Project in local schools, is earmarked to receive $2,000. Valley Spellbinders, a reading program in the Pitkin County Library, has been recommended for a $2,500 donation.

The Aspen Given Foundation is planning an eye-exam program for the community, paid for partly with a $5,000 donation from the county. And Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention teaches students about the perils of drug abuse and methods for avoiding drug use and dependence.

“Are these nonprofits making it easy for the school system not to make their programs a priority?” Griffith asked.

Roy said she would consider limiting the number of donations in order to get a bigger bang for the buck. She also raised questions over supporting programs such the Science Outreach Center that impact relatively few people.

Ireland was the least willing of the commissioners to tamper with the list. He said the citizen committee had scrutinized every application to come up with a list of recommendations that left the county with about $40,000 for next year’s grant-making process.

Many observers, locally and nationally, expect next year to be even more difficult for nonprofits, with ever-larger cutbacks in state and federal spending on human services and tighter budgets at foundations and other grant-making organizations.

Ireland also questioned the wisdom of cutting Catholic Charities, which is the only nonprofit provider of immigration counseling in the region.

“Catholic Charities helps people become enfranchised,” Ireland said. “We gain somebody who becomes part of the community.”

The commissioners agreed to meet again with the review committee in early December before appropriating the money.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]