Sandy Springs officials have approved controversial changes to the city’s nonprofit funding policy.
The Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 to implement revised language to the guidelines at its meeting March 4 at City Hall. The new policy, which goes into effect immediately, mandates that fundraising cannot be the primary function of a nonprofit’s programming aided by city funds.
“There are a couple of reasons why this all started, one of which is to make sure the city is getting a good understanding of where [its] money goes and, also, kind of as a [post-event] report of how the event turned and if the money that we spent accomplished what it was intended to accomplish,” said District 1 Councilman John Paulson. “We then got into this discussion of pass-through organizations ... and [whether] funds we put into the community to nonprofits would actually be spent within the community, not just pass through and nobody knows where the money went.”
The revised policy omits previously proposed wholesale wording that would have excluded fundraising activities. At the urging of one of the city’s most prominent nonprofits, all sitting council members agreed to that compromise.
Like the previous few meetings, multiple members of the Sandy Springs Society were on hand March 4 to lobby the issue. The all-female, all-volunteer society, in its 25th year of existence, supports Heritage Sandy Springs and other area nonprofits that promote the arts, heritage, education, the environment and social services.
District 6 Councilman Andy Bauman was instrumental in facilitating the aforementioned compromise, introducing the final amendment toward that end.
“We recognize and appreciate recent changes to the draft policy because it has allowed pass-through organizations such as ourselves to be eligible for city funding,” said Society President Kate Dalba. “But, the [previous] language didn't go far enough as organizations such as ours were still ineligible because our two community events are fundraisers.
“What adverse impact on the taxpayer is there if the city funds don’t [go] towards direct expenses staging a community event open to the public that stimulates tourism and fosters cultural and recreational activities just because it’s a fundraiser?”
The amended policy stipulates that eligibility for funding hinges on whether or not there is a larger community programmatic benefit to an applicant’s endeavor.
“My personal druthers is I don’t think we should be doing these types of fundings of private organizations on some level,” said District 4 Councilman Gabriel Sterling. “I am extremely uncomfortable paying for things that are primarily fundraisers ... because you’re taking the money and using it to expend money that we have zero fiduciary control over, which has been the issue the entire time.”
After Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Rusty Paul warned city staffers of the ramifications involved — particularly, the likelihood of a sharp increase in applicants — albeit for limited monies.
“The number of requests that we get for funding will probably be significant,” Paul said. “But, the money’s going to be smaller if we fund everything.”
In other business, council members also unanimously approved Paul’s proposal to transfer the functions/responsibilities of the design review board to the city planning and zoning commission.