Sonoma City Council to review nonprofit grant program

The scramble for city dollars gets started Monday, March 20, when the Sonoma City Council evaluates the controversial changes made last year to the Community Grand Fund Program.

The city’s Community Grant Fund allocates significant resources to local nonprofits, an acknowledgement of civic generosity to independent organizations that take up the slack for a nonexistent parks and recreation department. The Sonoma Community Fund is based on 1.5 percent of General Fund tax revenue sources to provide grants for nonprofit community service organizations.

Up until the City reorganized the grant program in 2016, four nonprofits were the primary recipients of the community grants –the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, the Sonoma Community Center, Vintage house and the Sonoma Ecology Center. Starting with the 2016-2017 budget, the City scaled back on supporting those four “Tier 1” – as they were formerly known – organizations and allocated a larger percentage to other nonprofits.

The move to spread the wealth around was not wholly popular – especially with the four former Tier 1s. The Sonoma Ecology Center saw its allocation cut from $27,675 to $20,000, while the Boys and Girls Clubs saw its share drop from $70,725 to $20,000.

But the reallocation did elevate the budgets of other local organizations which applied for a piece of the community grant pie. La Luz Center’s $10,000 grant helped it put on the November 2016 Dia de los Muertos festivities, and the upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration, again to be held in the Plaza. And the Sonoma Valley Historical Society parlayed its $9,400 grant into the first steps toward creating a Sonoma Historic Railroad District, to be located near Depot Park.

Other 2016-2017 recipients included the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, Sonoma Valley Teen Services, the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival, Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), the Sonoma Volunteer Firefighter’s Association and the Sonoma Valley Youth Soccer program.

Last year the total available funding for the Community Fund amounted to $194,385. Per the Community Fund Grant guidelines, 90 percent – or $174,900 – was awarded as competitive grants and 10 percent, or $19,485, was set aside as “Council discretionary funds” to be awarded by the City Council for general purposes such as Plaza fee waivers, mini-grants, etc.

But since last year marked a change in how the Community Fund was administered, the City Council opted to review the newly adopted policy before calling for grant applications for the 2017-2018 fiscal year’s budget.

The purpose of the March 20 Council meeting is to hold a work session to review the Community Fund Grant program. Over the last few months, city staff has met with a number of the nonprofit executive directors to gain their direct input and feedback. That information and options for Council consideration and input will be presented at Monday’s meeting.

For instance, last year’s competitive grant application period opened on March 16 and closed on April 29, resulting in 23 grant applications for a total of $450,000 – far in excess of the budgeted amount. Based on the current calendar, City Manager Cathy Capriola said it is likely that the City’s funding contribution for this year will not begin on July 1, in order to allow the Council and staff to review and implement the Community Fund grant program.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.