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Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, Community Enhancement grants no longer need Board of Supervisors approval

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

Neighborhood Reinvestment Program and Community Enhancement Program grants awarded by the County of San Diego no longer need approval from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The county supervisors approved the streamlining of the grants on a 4-0 vote, with one vacant seat, June 13. The supervisors’ action approved amendments to the county policies covering Neighborhood Reinvestment Program and Community Enhancement grants.

The Neighborhood Reinvestment Program was originally called the Community Projects program when it was created in 1998. The Neighborhood Reinvestment Program is funded by balances in the previous year’s general fund and is intended to reflect the county’s policy of spending one-time revenues for one-time projects rather than for ongoing programs.

The annual budget of each county supervisor has ranged from $1 million to $2 million depending on county finances. The program is intended to provide grants to non-profit organizations for the furtherance of public purposes at the regional and community levels.

Each county supervisor has a discretionary budget which can be used for non-profit organizations, and county supervisors can also fund schools and fire departments or use money from their budgets to supplement other county funding for specific county projects such as parks, roads, and libraries. The supervisors recommend the allocation of their Neighborhood Reinvestment Program funds, although those allocations previously needed to be approved by a majority of the board.

In September 2009, the county supervisors changed the program’s name to the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program and created Board of Supervisors Policy B-72, which included process and eligibility requirements. The original policy included a statement that a higher priority should be given to requests for capital projects and other one-time expenditures but did not specify restrictions on the types of projects for which the funds could be used.

Policy B-72 was modified in September 2010 after various controversies arose. The 2010 revisions prohibited funds from being used for food and beverages or for fundraising activities, allowed the county to seek the return of funds not spent according to the grant agreement, required public acknowledgment of funding to credit the County of San Diego rather than the individual county supervisor, and prohibited county supervisors from receiving gifts with a value of at least $50 from organizations to which they have provided Neighborhood Reinvestment Program funds.

Language was added that the grants must serve lawful public purposes and cannot be used for purposes prohibited by law for public funds such as religious, political campaign, or private purposes.

In 2012, a $50,000 grant to the North County Economic Development Council for the “Prosperity on Purpose” comprehensive economic development study required a waiver for the grant to be spent on a purpose other than capital improvements, equipment, materials, goods, or supplies. The grant passed on a 3-2 vote, and the motion also created a subcommittee to work on revising the restrictions to allow for economic development programs.

Several other restrictions also had unintended consequences. The prohibition on spending money for food or beverages was intended to address community events but also prohibited food banks or social service agencies from feeding the needy and prevented animal shelters from purchasing food.

The restrictions to tangible items precluded information and technology services, including websites and databases, which for formation are more one-time expenditures rather than ongoing programs. The prohibition against supervisors receiving gifts resulted from a controversy over symphony tickets and was not intended for nonprofit fundraising activities.

An October 2014 revision to Policy B-72 allowed expenditures for food or beverages provided to individuals in need through organizations which provide meals to needy individuals or families and allowed grants to pay for feed for animal shelters to support the rehabilitation of animals.

Those revisions also allowed grants for one-time website, software, and related information and technology development services. Admission or participation in nonprofit fundraising activity allowed under the California Political Reform Act was exempted from the ban on gifts as was anything received which was not defined under that act as a gift or income.

Other October 2014 modifications required that the recipient organization maintain a governing body or employ an administrator or staff responsible for the funds’ expenditure, required county supervisors’ offices to post each district’s priorities which guide funding recommendations, added a hyperlink on the county’s website application page directing potential applicants to the grant instruction page and required board members to maintain applications for at least three years, and prohibited late docketed items docketed between the initial deadline and the Friday deadline for urgent items to be heard unless the recommendation satisfied requirements for immediate action.

The modifications also prevented a county supervisor or staff member from publicly presenting an actual or mocked-up check to grant recipients while also preventing the posting of such awards on a supervisor's social media site and clarified that the prohibition against recognizing an individual supervisor applies only to written recognition on the item received, allowing for recognition in newsletters and in board minutes and also allowing for an explanation of the process.

Funding for the Community Enhancement program utilizes a combination of general fund money and Transient Occupancy Tax revenue collected from lodging facilities in the unincorporated portion of the county, although organizations in incorporated cities are also eligible for funding.

The Community Enhancement program is intended to promote tourism including visitors from other parts of the county. The allocation of Community Enhancement funding had been part of the County of San Diego's annual budget process.

Due to the delay in the passage of the 2020-21 budget, a Community Enhancement allocation for each supervisorial district was included in the budget, but the actual grant awards were separated from the budget approval. The annual allocation during the budget approval with grants being awarded separately continued in subsequent fiscal years.

The allocation of Small Business Stimulus Grant and Microbusiness Grant awards does not require Board of Supervisors approval before the funds can be distributed to organizations.

Eliminating a Board of Supervisors hearing for Neighborhood Reinvestment Program and Community Enhancement awards will reduce county staff time and also reduce delays in the distribution of funds. The County of San Diego amendments allow Board of Supervisors members to continue to receive and review funding requests and provide direction to fund the activities and projects.

The county supervisor office will submit a memo to the Office of Economic Development and Government Affairs detailing the award decisions, the relevant justifications for compliance with the program, and the award amount. County Counsel will review the grant to ensure its compliance with the Board of Supervisors policy.

A county supervisor office may recommend amendments to the agreements to change the scope, extend the performance date up to one year, or increase the award amount; amendments shall be routed for approval by the Office of Economic Development and Government Affairs in the same manner as the initial agreements.

Any waiver of a board policy for a grant will still require a Board of Supervisors hearing and approval by a majority of the board.

 

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