The Park Record editorial, May 13, 2009 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, May 13, 2009

County should step up funding and oversight of nonprofits

Summit County Council members are in a tough spot. After many years of generously contributing to a wide spectrum of local non-profit organizations, this year they must tighten the purse strings. Unfortunately, many of those nonprofits need the county’s support more now than ever.

It is all part of the vicious circle set in motion by the current recession. Due to the overall economic slowdown, federal programs and private donations have been drastically reduced, making health care, arts and recreation groups even more dependent on grants from local governments. At the same time, most elected officials would acknowledge that with their own budgets trimmed to the bone, they are counting on area nonprofits to pick up the slack where government services have been reduced or eliminated.

That is the challenge facing Summit County’s new council members. And, if their campaign season idealism hasn’t already been challenged, last week’s frank talk about needing to reduce grants to non-profit agencies must have given them a strong dose of reality.

In past years the county has dispersed out about $165,000 to area nonprofits. Some of the groups applying for county grants this year include: Recycle Utah, Park City Leadership, Peace House, Community Action, Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, Habitat for Humanity, Mountainland Resource Conservation and Development area, Park City Community Outreach Center, Green Building initiative, People’s Health Clinic, Summit Wasatch Counties Children’s Justice Center, Summit County Friends of Animals and Summit Land Conservancy.

All are worthy causes and in more prosperous times in a normal economy we are relatively certain this group of councilors would not deny funding to any one of them.

But this year, money is scarce and the council needs to come up with a clear cut, justifiable formula for reducing some of its traditional contributions and cutting others altogether.

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Foremost among those criteria should be an audit of each nonprofit to determine how many people are served, what percent of the group’s budget goes toward administration and what percent to providing services, how transparent agency’s book keeping is and whether the same services are offered by another organization.

A nonprofit’s financial structure needs to be as strong as its mission. This year with so many causes and so little money the County Council is obligated to hold each applicant to rigorous accounting standards. And then we hope they will give as much as the county can possibly afford.