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Guidelines tightened on Community Projects funds - Progam Renamed

For the past ten years, various schools, fire departments and nonprofit agencies have received Community Projects grants from a discretionary budget provided to each county supervisor.

On September 15 the supervisors changed the name of the program from the Community Projects Program to the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program and adopted guidelines which will be codified into a future Board of Supervisors policy.

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote adopts the new name for the program, a mission statement, eligibility guidelines and rules and regulations.

They also directed the county’s chief administrative officer to develop a standardized Neighborhood Reinvestment Program application and return to the supervisors within 60 days with a policy which contains the approved recommendations.

“We think this is a very, very important item to bring forward,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “This is a very successful program. plays a critical role in improving the quality of life for our constituents.”

The county implemented Community Projects funding in 1999. The purpose was to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for the furtherance of public purposes at the regional and community levels.

Each county supervisor recommends the allocation of his or her Community Projects funds, although those allocations must be approved by a majority of the Board of Supervisors.

In addition to schools, fire departments and other nonprofit organizations, some supervisors have also used money from their Community Projects budgets to supplement other county funding for specific county projects such as parks, roads and libraries.

“As far as District 2 is concerned, this program has been extremely valuable,” said Second District supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Much of Jacob’s funding has been allocated to youth recreational facilities, including high school fields and swimming pools, in the Second Supervisorial District.

“I believe very strongly that having good places for kids to play keeps them healthy, keeps them out of trouble,” Jacob said.

Community Projects funds have also been used for public health programs, organizational expenses for community service group fundraisers or for cultural festivals, fire department needs, clean-up projects, library projects, county park facilities and supplemental appropriations for road projects.

“We each have different needs,” Jacob said.

Each county supervisor has an identical Community Projects budget, which was $2 million per district for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The money can be spent on organizations either in incorporated cities or in unincorporated towns.

Supervisor Bill Horn noted the importance of Community Projects funding for unincorporated communities. “The unincorporated areas, especially North County and East County, do not get their sales tax back,” he said.

Ironically, two of Horn’s recommendations approved in a separate September 15 action would not be eligible under the new guidelines which will require that a grant request be for at least $3,500.

One of those grants covered the moving expenses of a Fallbrook charity, while the other reimbursed expenses for the Summergrass Bluegrass Music Festival in Vista.

Approval of Community Projects grants includes approval of a contract agreement between the county and the recipient stipulating the terms of the grant.

“Putting this in policy will actually codify many of the practices which are in place,” Jacob said. “It will provide greater transparency, greater accountability.”

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association was invited to participate in the update of the process. “I think this is a huge step forward. I think the public will benefit from this,” said San Diego County Taxpayers Association executive director Lani Lutar.

The mission statement adopted by the supervisors states that the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program provides grant funds to county departments, public agencies and nonprofit community organizations for one-time community, social, environmental, educational, cultural or recreational needs.

The adopted eligibility guidelines require that each organization receiving funds provide services in educational or recreational projects, local business and tourism promotional activities, arts and cultural programs, environmental awareness programs or projects, public safety programs, health and social service initiatives or programs or county programs which benefit the community and enhance the region’s quality of life.

The organization must either be a public agency within the county or hold nonprofit or other legally tax-exempt status.

Recipient organizations must be financially solvent and provide full disclosure with previous year financial statements at the time of application, and all sources of funding must be revealed.

The organization must enter into a written agreement with the county which specifies the organization’s responsibility with respect to the use of the funds and requires full accounting and other documentation of the expenditures.

The documents must be provided to the public upon request, and any recognition of the funding must be worded that the grant was funded by the County of San Diego at the request of the specific supervisor.

In addition to other information, the county will require a description of how the project will benefit the community, including how many people will be served.

An estimated time completion for the project must be given and a list of any funding partners must be provided. The availability of matching funds will be weighed when considering an application.

The standardized application will also be made available on the county’s Web site and on each supervisorial office’s Web site.

Grant requests may not be less than $3,500, and a higher priority will be given to capital projects and other one-time expenditures.

The funds must be spent within one year unless an extension is approved by the Board of Supervisors.

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