Approved application form for Council Grant Program requests stirs debate

GEORGETOWN – Nonprofits requesting funding from Sussex County’s Council Grant Program now need more than a letter of request.

Sussex County Council by a 3-2 vote, March 1, supported councilman Rob Arlett’s proposed grant application form pertaining to councilmatic grants brought before the governing body.

ARLETT, rob NEW

ROB ARLETT

Mr. Arlett, R-Frankford, represents District 5. The first-term councilman provided the application form he recently enacted for requests from his district to council’s attention in February.

His intent is to be “more transparent and to ensure there is a real fiscal, financial need” when considering councilmatic grants supported by taxpayer money.

“This is the public’s tax dollars. We are not talking about Rob Arlett’s dollars. We are talking about the public’s tax dollars,” Mr. Arlett said. “The residents of this county should know who is getting what and why. They should.”

Joan Deaver, D-Lewes, and George Cole, R-Ocean View, backed Mr. Arlett in approving the grant application form for all districts.

“I do think it is an improvement,” said Ms. Deaver. “We could give a choice, but I’d rather have everyone do it.”

Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, and council president Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, opposed.

Each of the five council members started fiscal year 2016 with $35,000 in their respective council accounts. Councilmatic grant requests up for council’s consideration are typically near the end of the meeting agenda.

Traditionally, requests often were in the form of a letter which was initially reviewed by the county finance department.

The new application form seeks general information: project name, federal tax ID, address of contact person as well as information about any other funding sources and requests from county government in the past year.

It also includes categorical sections (fair housing, infrastructure, health/human services, cultural, educational or other), beneficiary (disability/special needs, elderly persons, victims of domestic violence, low/moderate income, homeless, youth or other) and the non-profit’s current revenues and expenditures. The form also requests the number of county beneficiaries to be served and the population/area to be served by the program or event that the grant would support.

Mr. Wilson said it is just another senseless case of bureaucratic “red tape.”

Mr. Vincent believes the long-standing system worked fine.

Sussex County Council for 2015: from left, seated, Samuel Wilson, R-Georgetown, and Michael Vincent, R-Seaford; standing, Robert Arlett, R-Frankford; Joan Deaver, D-Lewes; and George Cole, R-Ocean View. At the Jan. 6 meeting, Mr. Vincent was re-elected council president and Mr. Wilson was re-elected vice president. (Special to the Sussex County Post)

MICHAEL VINCENT

“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks. The whole purpose, at least in my mind, of the councilmatic grants is to help small entities do some kind of project in their community, whether it is the Cub Scouts or the historical society,” said Mr. Vincent. “If somebody sends me a letter, in most cases I will tell you I know these people. I know the groups. So I feel comfortable about what they are asking for. If I don’t know them or the group, I will call and talk to them and ask questions.”

Furthermore Mr. Vincent said the new form really does not verify financial need as is its intended purpose.

“In my opinion the only way to truly verify that our dollars are spent on that exact subject is by an audit, either done by the county or we require that entity to have it done, which is going to cost them money or cost us money,” said Mr. Vincent.

Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings agreed that without an audit it would be difficult to follow every cent of the money trail.

“I can’t tell you for sure,” said Ms. Jennings, adding the county does not have “the staff to do an audit.”

Mr. Cole likes the new form. “I think it is a good way to track stuff,” he said.

“We are not tracking anything,” said Mr. Vincent. “I thought it was proposed because we want to make sure the money is being spent for that exact thing.”

“Well, we are tracking who it is,” said Mr. Cole. “I think this looks more formal than a bunch of letters. Some letters are more detailed than others.”

george cole formatted mug

GEORGE COLE

“I have been very comfortable with the way we have been doing it for years. But we are under a lot of scrutiny nowadays and there are a lot of organizations,” said Mr. Cole. “There are people out in that audience that every week follow us and are always questioning us. It may be a good way to cover ourselves and lessen some of the exposure we may have for making a mistake or something. I don’t see a big threat by this.”

“When I look at this form it doesn’t seem very burdensome. It seems like a very simple form,” said Mr. Cole. “The most burdensome part is ‘briefly describe the programs for which funds that are being requested.’ I don’t think we are asking for any kind of an audit. I don’t think we are asking for any new regulations. I just think this might be a good way so that if I had to answer one of my constituents and say why Sam Wilson or why Joan Deaver gave some money to that group and what are they going to use it for, I could easily pull this up. It is also something we are all voting on. We are all in it together.”

Mr. Vincent expressed concern that the application proposal only covers nonprofits seeking councilmatic grants and not the county’s other grant sources.

“If the council chooses to go down this path, I would be very disappointed that we single out just this one group of people do this. Every nonprofit we grant money to should do the same process,” Mr. Vincent said. “This councilmatic grant is a very miniscule part of our non-profit grant process.”

The application form, created by Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings at Mr. Arlett’s request, can be accessed on the county’s website – www.sussexcountyde.gov/.

“I think it responsible on our part,” said Mr. Arlett. “There is no harm in it. They can choose to fill it out or not. I think transparency is important. This form just makes sense.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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