The Solvang City Council held a review of its grant funding policy at its meeting Monday night after funds doled out in 2017 reached more than $400,000.
The council directed staff to revise the city’s grant funding policy, putting a funding cap at 3 percent of the general fund for all local nonprofit agencies except the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, the library and the Solvang Chamber of Commerce.
The move followed comments from Administrative Services Director Sandra Featherson, who expressed concerns about the exponential growth of those requesting money over the last decade.
Potential solutions she presented to the council included the cap on the percentage of money given out, a cap on the number of agencies allowed to apply or a flat amount given out for the fiscal year.
“The number of agencies continues to grow who are requesting funding,” Featherson said.
In February, Featherson said she sends out a notice to the previous grant funding recipients and applicants, those groups have until mid-March to complete an application.
From there, the finance subcommittee reviews the applications and makes a preliminary funding award. During the preliminary budget hearing in June, those agencies are given a chance to speak.
As a member of the finance subcommittee, Mayor Jim Richardson said it’s a judgment call for each applicant.
“Some demand more because they provide more services, some demand more because they think they provide more services,” Richardson said. “We make the recommendations that come before council and council changes them, and grants them their full-blown request. So, we’re all guilty in seeing these costs rise.”
Richardson recommended capping the percentage of money distributed from the general fund as an equitable way to distribute funds.
“[Council member] Ryan [Toussaint] and I are on the finance committee and if I can get his agreement that’ll we will be more strict in what we’re accepting, what we’re doing and to more carefully understand that this last year was absolutely outrageous to add another $200,000 to the grants,” Richardson said.
Council member Joan Jamieson said she wants to make sure the money is going to groups that perform services within Solvang, not large nonprofit organizations.
She referenced the city giving $5,000 to United Way last year.
“That does not mean anything to those people and I don’t think that we should even consider those anymore. I’m looking to give benefit to the local charitable organizations that we have here,” Jamieson said, adding that she has been criticized for the funds the city has given outside the community in the past.
Funding priority should be based on need, said council member Karen Waite.
“Not necessarily what that organization contributes to the community, but an organization within the community that is in need,” Waite said.
Councilman Neill Zimmerman said he’d like to see the prioritization justified.
Featherson said she could rework the grant applications to make them more specific, but that her concern is less about more stringent criteria and more about a fiscally responsible solution to ever-increasing grant applications.
“Each of the organizations makes a case for how they help Solvang residents so I think that’s a tough one to really try and limit them. Every single one of them argued that they helped Solvang residents in some way last year,” Featherson said. “The bigger concern for me from the financial perspective is really, do you figure out a way to put a cap? Because I see the agencies growing and the need growing.”