Miami-Dade County commissioners soon will adopt a budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Their decisions, among many far-reaching impacts, will determine the quality of life for tens of thousands of residents who depend on nonprofit, community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide vital, safety-net services throughout all of our needy and at-risk communities.
Which among the many hundreds of CBOs should receive taxpayer support?
That will be one of the thorniest political discussions of this year’s budget process. With respect, nothing short of the County Commission’s integrity will be on the line.
Bottom line and good news: There is a fair and sensible way forward.
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For many years, a defined group of “legacy” CBOs has received significant financial support in the county’s annual budgets. The worthiness of some of those CBOs clearly and publicly diminished over time, yet their subsidies continued undiminished and uninterrupted. And newly created CBOs, clamoring for support of their innovative and impressive programs, found only deaf ears at County Hall — year after year after year.
But County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson’s political leadership galvanized her colleagues to try to reform this budgetary tradition: A process was launched early last year in which legacy CBOs as well as new CBOs competed for what most agree is a modest pot of public funds. It evolved, calmly and slowly, in a rigorous, public, fair-minded, and thoughtful manner. No government procurement process is flawless, but this was as close as one could ever come to blemish-free. About 250 CBOs asked for a total of $84 million in 11 distinct service categories — compared to only $14 million in county funds available, not even 17 cents on the needed dollar.
As with every government or private-foundation competition for funding, there were recommended winners and there were disappointed losers when the results were presented to county commissioners in March.
The losers actually won that day. After a public hearing, commissioners voted 7-4 to repudiate County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recommendations and to revisit the entire matter at a later date. Although no speaker credibly attacked the integrity of the procurement process itself, the voices of disappointed — as in, non- and underfunded CBOs — had more clout: legacy CBOs at the county funding trough were allowed to stay there, undisturbed, with new CBOs still frozen out.
The “later date” of reckoning soon approaches. Who will get the money?
There is really only one way forward that is fair, reasonable, intelligent and — most important — that respects the integrity of a county procurement that was conducted with extraordinary professionalism:
1. Every new CBO recommended for funding should receive the same percentage of that funding — 90 percent or 85 percent or 80 percent. Those agencies competed fairly and were recommended based on the strength of their programs. They should get to the trough, at long last.
2. Every legacy CBO recommended for funding should receive that same percentage of funding — they validated the value of their services and programs in a highly competitive environment. Their continued funding support is deserved.
3. Every legacy CBO that (a) participated in this process (some legacy CBOs did not, interestingly) but (b) was not recommended for funding should receive a percentage of their existing public subsidy in an amount much less than the CBOs in the prior two categories — 60, 50 or 40 percent. That would acknowledge those agencies’ years of important community service and demonstrate sensitivity to the significant impact that complete de-funding might have.
I and many colleagues in the county’s not-for-profit world think that this is a fair and credible way forward that achieves respect and validation for the integrity of the county’s procurement practices, while rewarding those CBOs that demonstrated the greatest program excellence.
Claudia Kitchens is CEO of Kristi House, Inc., a Miami not-for-profit dedicated to eradicating child sexual abuse and to healing its victims.