Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tightens rules about funding nonprofits

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tightens rules about funding nonprofits

December 13th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Courtney Chandler, right, director of adult services, shows Michelle Rutherford her progress while helping her make a Christmas tree ornament Thursday at Signal Centers' adult services center in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Nonprofit organizations that rely on money from Chattanooga taxpayers to fund after-school programs, adult disability education, programs for rape victims and a plethora of other social services will be required more than ever to defend their need for money in the next city budget.

As a result, some local organizations may lose their city funding, a top official in the mayor's office said.

"It's likely that some of you will get less or no money," Brent Goldberg, Mayor Andy Berke's deputy chief operating officer, told a packed audience in City Council chambers on Thursday. "We want to be up front about this process."

This year's $212 million budget included nearly $1 million for social service nonprofits and $481,000 for other nonprofits.

Since the city is moving to budgeting for outcomes for the 2015 fiscal year that begins July 1, city departments and nonprofits alike will have to outline how their program fits in with Berke's five initiatives and how the organization will monitor their performance.

Berke's initiatives range from reducing violence to creating smarter students and growing the local economy.

Nonprofits' applications for city funds are due Feb. 21, Goldberg said. If the city likes a proposal, officials will pitch the idea to the City Council to sign off on funding. The administration hired the PFM Group for nearly $100,000 to help implement next year's budget.

Now, multiple organizations use city funding for key programs they say are valuable to the community: Signal Centers uses $30,000 from the city for a program to help mentally disabled adults find jobs; the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults gets $56,000 from the city for its rape crisis center.

The Chambliss Center for Children, a child center and emergency shelter, receives nearly $350,000 from the city.

Some organization officials said they welcome the extra oversight and see the changes as an opportunity to possibly expand.

"This is an opportunity not just for the Partnership but other organizations that have really valuable, important, needed services," said Regina McDevitt, director of the Partnership's crisis services.

Signal Centers Chief Executive Donna McConnico said the new requirement is more fair and puts organizations on the same level to get city dollars.

In the past, organizations had to persuade the City Council to sign off on funding, which McConnico said resulted in chasing down city officials to listen to her ideas.

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said she agrees this process is simpler and levels the playing field.

"It's strictly based on the city's needs," she said. "It puts an emphasis on accountability to taxpayers."

During Thursday's meeting, some organization leaders expressed concern for how the city would evaluate their efforts, especially if what they offer to the community is not measurable.

Goldberg said city officials will take into account that some efforts are intangible, but it will still be the organization's responsibility to explain why it should receive city dollars.

For some organizations and even neighborhood associations that want to become involved in larger city projects, the new process could mean they are awarded city funding for the first time.

Lesley Scearce, president of On Point, a nonprofit that provides classes for teenagers across the city, said her organization has asked for city dollars but has not received any funds. She hopes that will change.

"We're hopeful and excited because we have a lot of outcomes to show," she said.

On Point now offers classes in 19 schools to teach teens life skills so they will make right choices and avoid risky behavior. Scearce said the organization will ask the city for funding to expand classes and training for adults who work with teenagers.

Scearce said On Point already has trained employees in the Youth and Family Development Department, who work in the city's recreation centers.

Nonprofits can begin to fill out applications on Jan. 10.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.