Summit County budget recommendation includes funding cut to nonprofits
Ed Rutan, president of CONNECT Summit County and former city attorney for Salt Lake City, worked in government for more than 10 years, gaining a clear understanding of how multi-million budgets are decided.
So when Rutan heard Summit County Manager Tom Fisher was recommending the county cut the funding for the nonprofit grant program in 2019 he said he understood the difficulty of that decision. CONNECT Summit County was formed by a group of residents who were concerned with the mental health services available in the community.
“Budgets are pretty tough,” he said. “But, everything I have heard indicates they have an open mind and are willing to listen to the nonprofits. I just hope we can convince them to restore funding.”
The Summit County Council got their first glimpse of Fisher’s recommended budget, which included the suggestion not to fund the program in 2019. The county typically grants between $80,000 and $100,000 to nonprofits each year.
Fisher said decision did not come lightly. It was based on the estimated revenues he had at the time for the coming year and the County Council’s recent decision to award a $250,000 grant to the Community for Children’s Justice. The grant helped support the acquisition of a standalone facility for Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center.
“I was constrained to a certain level of revenue and didn’t feel I could fund those,” he said. “I was doing that because there were programs or items within the budget that were more important to fund under my recommendation. That is not to say the work that those nonprofits do with those grants are not important.”
Fisher admitted his recommendation could be perceived as the county favoring one nonprofit over another. However, he said that is not the message that should be conveyed.
“We really have to consider all of our expenditures as we are doing these budgets and really understand how they contribute to the overall goals of the county,” he said. “In making sure that we are achieving those goals and certainly as revenues for the next year become clearer as the year goes on it helps us in narrowing down exactly what we need to budget for on the expenditure side.”
Fisher said revenue estimates will become more accurate as the year goes on, adding the numbers have already changed since he presented to the County Council.
“The estimates we have now show things to be a little better than what we had anticipated when I was preparing my recommendation,” he said. “As a result of that, the Council will be considering other things within that revenue stream and one of those would be a reconsideration of the nonprofit grants, youth recreation and other requests in the budget that were not funded.”
Approximately $106,000 was granted to nonprofit organizations in 2018, including the People’s Health Clinic. The clinic was awarded $25,000.
Beth Armstrong, executive director of the People’s Health Clinic, noted that the funding cut is not imminent at this point. But, she said in an email, if it was necessary to provide the funding to the Children’s Justice Center to she would not be opposed.
“It’s easier for me to make up my funding from other sources than to not have that service available to a child during the worst time of his or her life,” she said.
CONNECT received $10,000 from the grant funding program in 2017 and 2018. Rutan said the group applied for the same amount for 2019. He said the funding requested for the coming year would help the organization establish its online director of mental health services available in the county. He added, “It would be hard to cut that back.”
“We have an annual maintenance fee to pay and have staff that need to do the work to keep it up to date,” he said. “It will have an impact on us if we don’t get that money. I’m not saying we won’t find another way. But, it is an important community priority and has been recognized in the strategic plan. We will do everything we can to make sure the directory continues.”
The County Council plans to finalize details for the 2019 budget by the end of December. Department-by-department discussions about staffing needs and other budget issues will continue throughout November.
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