BOCC dips into fund balance for char­i­ta­ble trust

Maryland Independent - - News - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

Charles County, like most other ju­ris­dic­tions na­tion­wide, some­times has to dip into its fund balance to sup­ple­ment costs when cer­tain needs come up dur­ing a fis­cal year. This is not an un­com­mon oc­cur­rence and has hap­pened in Charles County be­fore.

But when the county’s fis­cal team rec­om­mended the board of county com­mis­sion­ers move $191,900 from the county’s fund balance within its gen­eral fund to fund the county’s char­i­ta­ble trust pro­gram start­ing in Septem­ber and to cover the costs for a county con­sul­tant, things be­came con­tentious be­tween the of­fi­cials.

The county’s ap­proved amend­ment for this fund trans­fer would go on the fis­cal year 2017 bud­get, ac­cord­ing to Jen­nifer Ellin, the county’s chief of bud­get.

Over­all, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments pro­vided by county staff, $176,300 of the county’s $191,900 trans­fer would go to ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions and re­quire­ments such as of­fice space, in­sur­ance and pro­fes­sional ser­vices for the county’s Char­i­ta­ble Trust pro­gram.

Ellin said she does not know if th­ese same costs will oc­cur an­nu­ally af­ter the 2017 fis­cal year. But there are not any pro­jected fig­ures at the mo­ment, she said.

“Our hope was that it could be less each time as the or­ga­ni­za­tion gets up and run­ning,” Ellin said.

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) said that while she sees the ben­e­fit of the county’s Char­i­ta­ble Trust pro­gram, she does not feel com­fort­able trans­fer­ring so much spend­able money to the pro­gram for ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions go­ing for­ward.

There are “big is­sues,” Davis said, with tak­ing 25 per­cent of what the county ac­tu­ally grants to char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions. The county grants $800,000 to char­i­ties ev­ery year, she said, and this is not what the money was meant for.

“That is un­ac­cept­able. The vi­sion for this was not to spend $200,000 on ad­min­is­tra­tion out of $800,000 worth of grants,” Davis said. “The idea that we need $100,000 for a CEO, I don’t even know where to start.”

This is not proper use of tax­payer dol­lars, Davis said. The $190,300 could be used in the com­mu­nity some­where rather than be­ing put into the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

When the county ap­proved the $800,000 in grant money for char­ity, Davis said, they dis­cussed putting lim­its on how much could be spent on ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.

“I think we need to go back to the draw­ing board,” Davis said.

Vi­vian Mills, a con­sul­tant for the Charles County Char­i­ta­ble Trust or­ga­ni­za­tion, said the vi­sion of the county was to set up a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that will serve and aid other smaller non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions within Charles County. The trust will be in a “prime po­si­tion” to de­liver ser­vices to those other or­ga­ni­za­tions, she said, and make them more ef­fec­tive.

This will not all hap­pen in one year, Mills said, and it will take strate­gic plan­ning over a five year time frame to get done. But the or­ga­ni­za­tion does plan to ab­sorb more of its bud­getary needs as it con­tin­ues to grow.

“The Charles County Char­i­ta­ble Trust will have a very strong com­mit­ment to bring­ing in other sources of funds to make this pro­gram re­ally work and re­place the county mon­eys,” Mills said. “The cur­rent bud­get in front of you, I would en­cour­age ev­ery­one to look at it as our startup money.”

Mills said pro­mot­ing the devel­op­ment of a new non­profit en­tity and not hav­ing it funded suf­fi­ciently would be “sad.” The com­pany needs to get a start and as it moves for­ward, she said, costs will dwin­dle down.

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said hav­ing this or­ga­ni­za­tion is “re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant” and the abil­ity to grow the or­ga­ni­za­tions fund­ing re­sources will con­tinue to bring the funds down.

“Let’s also re­al­ize that up to this point there have been ad­min­is­tra­tive costs. There have been county staff that have been work­ing on this,” Robin­son said. “I don’t know if we have a break­down of how much hours and money have been spent on this, but it’s not in­signif­i­cant.”

There is no cur­rent break­down of how many hours county staff has spent work­ing on de­vel­op­ing the Char­i­ta­ble Trust fund and get­ting the or­ga­ni­za­tion run­ning.

Davis said there is “ob­vi­ously” a dif­fer­ence of opinion, but still, she said, the job was done pro­fes­sion­ally by Mills and the or­ga­ni­za­tion is primed to have a good start. “I com­mend you for that,” she said.

How­ever, Davis said, some of the du­ties of the or­ga­ni­za­tion mir­ror what the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land is al­ready do­ing for dif­fer­ent non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“The du­pli­ca­tion dis­turbs me a lit­tle bit,” Davis said. “I hope as we move for­ward and re­view ap­pli­ca­tions for char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions that we’re not fund­ing any char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion that has 25 per­cent ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.”

Mills said she wel­comes ques­tions about ad­min­is­tra­tive salaries and that is some­thing the or­ga­ni­za­tion can look into, but the range of salaries on ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions has a high vari­ance within the state and the costs as­so­ci­ated here are no dif­fer­ent.

“There’s a tremen­dous range,” Mills said. “Some of the larger non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions in Charles County, the CEO ranges up to $150,000.”

Over­all, Mills said, it is like com­par­ing ap­ples and or­anges. The Char­i­ta­ble Trust or­ga­ni­za­tion has a broad base and wants to serve the en­tire non­profit com­mu­nity.

It would be “re­ally wise,” Mills said, to have a good look at salaries in fu­ture bud­gets to make sure ev­ery­thing is in line.

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