Summit County commissioners emphasize transparency when discussing nonprofit donations

Family & Intercultural Resource Center Food Systems Associate Dalia Sanchez loads fresh fruits and vegetables into a box Tuesday, Sept. 7, at the Dillon Community Food Market. The resource center is one of 20 nonprofits that receive donations from the county.
Nicole Miller/Summit Daily News

The Summit County commissioners are looking to change the way the county determines how much nonprofits receive in donations from its budget.

The commissioners discussed nonprofit support during a board meeting on Tuesday, April 26. Last year, the county spent around $6.3 million on 20 nonprofits that work to address issues like housing, child care and climate change.

Marty Ferris, the county’s finance director, said the goal of the budget conversations is to streamline the process for awarding local funds to nonprofits. The board will be discussing and approving a 2023 budget this June.

Some of the nonprofits are tied into local government initiatives funded by the county’s budget. For example, Early Childhood Options is a local nonprofit that runs the county’s Head Start and Right Start preschool programs.

The commissioners’ task is to determine how it will use funds to support other nonprofits that aren’t already part of county initiatives, commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. The money for those donations either comes from the county’s mill levy — the county’s pot of property tax revenue — or the general fund.

The nonprofits that receive funding from the county’s mill levy go through an extensive process with advisory committees chiming in on how much money each nonprofit should receive. Because that process is so extensive, the commissioners were more concerned with how the county approaches supporting nonprofits that receive money from its general fund, which amounted to $558,900 for nonprofits in 2022.

“The mill levy funds at this point are really targeted at specific programs that support the vision of the community, and there’s a process,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “My concern about the general fund donations is that there isn’t as much of a process, and I’m uncomfortable with that.”

Pogue added that the county’s current way of decision making is not as transparent as it needs to be. In the past, commissioners have donated funds here and there to nonprofits that supported issues they cared about. The commissioners would like to see more thought put into it.

The commissioners floated the idea of creating a donor advised fund. The county would give a donation of money to The Summit Foundation, which would then use the commissioners’ direction to determine which nonprofits should receive the money and how much.

The commissioners also discussed moving some of the nonprofit support money that comes out of the general fund to the capital fund, as some of the nonprofits support capital projects like building housing and child care facilities.

Each of the three commissioners have backgrounds in nonprofit work. Before becoming an elected official, Lawrence worked for The Summit Foundation. Pogue used to be the executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and, later, Peak Health, and commissioner Josh Blanchard was the executive director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company.

The commissioners hope that a more transparent process will help them work through any biases and decide on the best funding for the community.

“Just in the last year, it seems like we’ve seen an increase in requests for support from a whole array of nonprofit organizations,” Blanchard said. “That’s why I think it’s important for us to talk through how we prioritize these decisions for the funding.”

Ultimately, the commissioners decided that the county needs to spend more time discussing nonprofit support so that final decisions meet their goals. At a future work session, the commissioners will receive a staff recommendation on how to approach nonprofit support and explore ways to further streamline the process.

The commissioners also hope to bring in nonprofit leaders so they can influence the decision-making process.

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