The part of the county budget that often brings the most passionate support from residents is already getting supervisors’ attention—more than two weeks before the board is set to hear from the public on the proposed FY14 spending plan.
During last night’s meeting of the Finance, Government Services and Operations Committee, supervisors began to take votes on funding recommendations for area nonprofits, cultural groups and regional organizations. Those positions will be forwarded to the full Board of Supervisors for consideration during its budget work sessions next month. Because the money provides support for groups like Loudoun Cares, ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, Loudoun Museum and Loudoun Interfaith Relief, it is often these topics that receive a large amount of comment during budget public hearings as volunteers, care recipients and supporters urge continued funding.
The proposed FY14 budget includes $3.992 million for regional organizations, including the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, most of which are contractual obligations. Loudoun’s formulaic contribution has increased this year because of updated population estimates.
The recommendation also includes $533,195 for intergovernmental contributions, like the School Resource Officers for schools in the Town of Leesburg and the Town of Hamilton sewer district, and $1.265 million for nonprofit organizations, including economic development, arts and culture and health and welfare. That funding level is slightly higher than the FY13 level.
The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship and the Waterford Foundation saw supervisors recommend removal of their funding requests. Both groups did not receive funding last year and were being granted $5,000 this year.
But those two groups were far from the only ones targeted by supervisors, and that might find their funding in peril as budget deliberations gear up. Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he would like all organizations that would be receiving funding for the first time this year removed from the list, but so far has not received support for cutting funding to organizations like immigrant-support group Ayuda, the Loudoun Symphony Association, Special Olympics Loudoun County and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Letourneau said his position was not a comment on the work the groups do, but said he does not want to see the county opening up new funding sources. “It is harder to say no to an organization and cut funding, once you have said yes,” he said.
Instead, Letourneau said he wants to see a complete overhaul of how the board funds organizations.
“I think we do this backwards,” he said. “In the future, I am going to work on a system, where we allocate a set amount of money, we identify the needs ahead of time and then have the organizations come forward to apply for those funds. I think this process lends itself to a lot of politics.”
However, Letourneau and the other members of the committee did have praise for county staff members on the new—and very detailed—process put in place this year for reviewing applications.
Falayi Adu, the senior management analyst who spearheaded the new process, said the applications from organizations were looked at with an eye on their financial trends, their economic impact and the percentage of their overall budget the county’s government represented, among others. The applicants were loaded into a spreadsheet and scored them based on the results. Then a group of experts in each field looked the groups’ service and mission, their administration and the demonstration of need for the service, among other criteria. Reviewers scored the application individually and using only the information presented—not any of their knowledge about the history of the organization or group. Then the organizations were ranked based on their score.
Organizations ranked in the top 10 that received funding last year were recommended for a 5 percent increase in FY14; organizations ranked 11 through 27 were recommended to the same amount of funding as FY13; and organizations that ranked in the bottom 10 were recommended for a 20 percent decrease in funding. The only exception to this formula were the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic, based on its funding request, and Loudoun Museum, based on prior board action.
Any new applicants or those that did not receive funding last year were marked for $5,000 if they ranked in the top 20 overall.
While comprehensive, that process created some noticeable funding cuts and large gaps between requested funding and recommended funding for some of the county’s most well known nonprofits. Loudoun Interfaith Relief, for example, is seeing a 20 percent decline in its funding—leaving it with only $41,800 from the county, more than $23,000 less than its request. La Voz of Loudoun, Joshua’s Hands, Volunteer Loudoun and the Boy Scouts of America found themselves without any recommended funding.
Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) also made mention that the no money was allocated to the Thomas Balch Library, the only intergovernmental organization not to be recommended for funding.
“I think the county needs to fund some of this,” he said. “Leesburg residents are county taxpayers as well.” He pointed out that Balch sees “well over 9,000 visitors, which is more than the Loudoun Museum…and about 30 percent of library users are county residents. The Balch Library has over 60,000 records. It is a depository for history and knowledge.”
Reid also noted that the Town of Leesburg’s request for the SROs for schools was lower this year. The county pays 70 percent of the costs and the town picks up the other 30 percent. The Leesburg District supervisor did not get any support for his suggestions on how to fund the library’s request of $65,426, including finding alternative ways to pay for the Loudoun Museum’s request and using available money in the budget.
“I have long thought the county should funding a portion of it,” he said.