Council discusses additional funding for Vibrant Community process

Charlottesville human services officials have asked City Council for more money for nonprofit agencies that provide services for individuals and households in need. That was one takeaway from a December 5, 2022 work session on the city’s Vibrant Community Fund. (agenda memo)

The city issued a request for proposals for funding in early October. The number of applications increased from 28 for the current fiscal year to 50 for the next one. There were 12 applications from entities that had never requested money before. 

“There’s a range of asks from organizations this year ranging from about $5,000 all the way up to $335,000,” said Misty Graves, the Director of Human Services for the City of Charlottesville. “Without any changes to the current flat allocation of funds to the Vibrant Community Fund, organizations are going to expect to get significantly less than their asks.” 

The total amount requested was $4.35 million compared to just over $2.75 million for fiscal year 2023. When housing programs are removed, the FY23 allocation was $1.9 million and that amount has been expected again in FY24. 

“And we currently have the same amount of allocated money to share with these applicants and organizations,” said Hunter Smith, a human services planner for the City of Charlottesville. (Smith is not the owner of a local brewery)

The increased funding does not include requests for anything housing related. 

“We moved all the housing and homeless services applicants over to the Office of Community Solutions,” Graves said. 

Applications for those projects were due on December 30, 2022. (read the story)

Since the work session, teams have been reviewing and scoring the requests and that information will be factored into the next budget. 

“Depending on how we evaluate funding recommendations versus how much their asks are, we take into consideration the scope of that organization’s work, how many recipients they serve, their quality of the program and the quality of their application, and their ability to meet outcomes and Council priorities,” Graves said. 

Graves wanted to know if Council would consider increasing the amount of funding for the Vibrant Community Fund. 

The numbers discussed at the work session did not include funding requests from arts organizations. 

Council indicated support for providing more funding, beginning with adding more money to address inflation. Early December was too early in the process to give a dollar amount. 

“And maybe one of the things that we would say to the City Manager is that as you’re trying to figure out where the last million dollars or so might go, consider some of this,” said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook. 

Snook also suggested that Council be able to provide feedback on their priorities to the committee that makes the recommendations on what gets funded. But Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he didn’t want Council to be able to interfere too much with the applications in process. He said he has evaluated similar applications during his career. 

“And I always understood that Councilors, you all or we all, always would get requests afterwards to change it,” Wade said. “I think that, trust me, we put the hours in. They put the hours in to review them and I think we, best we can, respect their work.” 

But Snook said he wanted to make sure that limited dollars go to advance what Council wants accomplished. 

“There’s a lot of ways that I think maybe the process would work better if we gave the VCF Committee some feedback once we sort of saw the initial round of what they’re talking about,” Snook said. “And then let them process that and make their recommendations to us again.” 

Councilor Brian Pinkston asked if there could be an update in January. Graves said the initial scores would be available in February. 

“And the kinds of recommendations that we’re looking for are kind of what you’re already tossing around,” Graves said. “Do you select a certain percentage for a certain category? Do you want to make your dollars stretch to more organizations or do you want to focus on a certain evaluation criteria?” 

Regardless of how that turns out, the budget needs to be balanced internally by February 15 before the public process begins, according to budget director Krisy Hammill. 

“That’s just for the city’s manager’s proposed budget,” Hammill said. “That will be presented to you in early March and whatever you all decide you want to do with that, you can certainly do that throughout the month of March and that becomes your adopted budget.” 

Hammill said the main question was simply whether Council wanted to provide more funding or not. 

“My own view is that we should increase it,” Pinkston said. 

“Yeah, if you’re just looking for a kind of picture type of thing, I definitely would like to see a few more dollars to that $1.9 million allocation,” Wade said.

City Councilor Sena Magill said she wants the pool of money to increase each year. 

“The need keeps increasing in our community while the usable dollars and function keeps decreasing,” Magill said. 

Magill also wanted more accountability for nonprofits and wanted better reporting on what the groups achieved.  Graves said that those who are funded now have to provide quarterly reports. 

City Councilor Michael Payne brought up the old system where Charlottesville and Albemarle reviewed these applications jointly. 

“One of my concerns is that I know all the reason we made all these changes to this process was to try to have a way to make investments that had a measurably more impactful benefit that what we were doing before and maybe I misinterpreted what I was hearing but it sounds like with this surge in new requests that we’ve got a much greater risk of kind of returning to where we were in the past where we kind of spread of money out to a ton of different requests instead of investing all in on several requests and that may put us in a situation where there’s less impact,” Payne said. 

Council signaled a willingness to increase the amount of funding by as much as ten percent. Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said he would try to make that happen. 

How will it all come together? Stay tuned in the next few months as the city’s budget for FY24 comes together. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 31, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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