Hamilton County Council, Commissioners disagree on not-for-profit funding

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Hamilton County Council members and the county commissioners recently disagreed on the amount of funding that should be appropriated to several nonprofit organizations.

In total, the commissioners presented a request for $610,241 that would help fund Chaucie’s Place, CIRTA, Conner Prairie, the Hamilton County Economic Development Corp., Hamilton County Leadership Academy, Hope Family Clinic, Prevail, PrimeLife Enrichment, Salvation Army and the Trinity Free Clinic. When the council approved the 2019 budget, it appropriated $427,310 to fund the organizations.

The commissioners also requested contractual services of $206,993 to go to Cherish Center, Good Samaritan and the Humane Society for Hamilton County. The council approved $141,993 of the request. The approval reduced Cherish Center funds by $25,000 and Good Samaritan funds by $40,000.

Commissioner Christine Altman said in previous years the council has asked for representatives from the organizations to present on their services prior to granting funds. This year, the council did not hear any presentations.

“Prior budget years, they have the not-for-profits come in and explain what they do,” Altman said. “The reason they are in our budget is because they offset services otherwise the county would have to provide.”

Although several organizations’ requests were approved in their entirety, others were reduced and some were removed from the list. The commissioners asked for $15,000 for Conner Prairie, which the council did not approve. Two other nonprofits, the Salvation Army, for which the commissioners requested $42,550, and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, which requested $62,691, were also turned down by the council.

Reduced funds were appropriated for Chaucie’s Place ($5,000 less than requested) and the Trinity Free Clinic ($10,000 less than requested). In addition to reducing and removing funds, the council also approved $10,001 for Meals on Wheels, which the commissioners didn’t include in their request. The council also granted an additional $5,000 for Hope Family Clinic.

“It just was horrendous, in my opinion, the lack of attention they put to why (the nonprofits were) in the budget and why the funding was requested,” Altman said.

Because the commissioners are the executive branch of the county, they can’t spend outside of what they are appropriated. Altman said the council created a rule that if a request is denied, the request can’t be presented again for a year. The commissioners are evaluating their options to decide if they want to issue the funds appropriated or if another action can be taken.

Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt’s concern was fairness. He said several of the nonprofits receiving funds from the county also receive funds from Community Development Block Grants. He wants to make sure funds are fairly appropriated.

“All I want to do is sit down and look and decide what’s fair,” he said. “I feel bad every time we fund somebody and don’t fund somebody else.”

County Council President Steve Schwartz said the council plans to have the nonprofits present on their requests next year as they have in previous years. Since the beginning of the year, Schwartz said two Hamilton County nonprofits present prior to each council meeting to to inform members about their services.

Schwartz said the council didn’t fund the Salvation Army because members aren’t exactly sure how the organization serves the county.

“There was a large request from the Salvation Army, and that had never been a request in front of us before. My own feeling is I think the Salvation Army does great things, but I had never been approached during the budget hearings from any representative from the Salvation Army,” he said. “My first thoughts would be, what do they do for Hamilton County? I think they’re a good organization across the country, but if they’re asking for that kind of money from our taxpayers in Hamilton County, I would like to know what they would use the money for.”

Meals on Wheels funding was presented by council member Amy Massillamany during the budget hearings.

Schwartz called Meals on Wheels “a great organization.”

“They feed people that need to be fed here in the county,” he said. “One of our council members, Amy Massillamany, she sits on that board, and she is very active within that organization, and she presented it to the seven council members that this was something that really needs to be done here in the county.”

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