To begin the meeting on the local Community Recovery Fund, Interim County Administrator Lisa Holmes gave a background on the discussions and decisions made by the Legislature to-date. The fund was initially drafted by the Legislature following the ~$19 million in federal funding received by the County from the American Rescue Plan Act and the local decision to leverage those funds for the County’s impending capital projects. The Community Recovery Fund was created to use a portion of the County’s available fund balance for community projects.
Holmes shared that a request for proposals was issued in October 2021 for the outside management of the Community Recovery fund, four responses were received. The Legislature’s Previous Chairwoman named a proposal selection committee that included Legislators Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca), Glenn Morey (R-Groton), Henry Granison (D-Ithaca), and Dan Klein (D-Danby) who gathered with staff from the County’s Finance and Administration departments. That group found upon review of proposals that there was wide variation in responses and several clarifying questions that must be addressed before a consultant is chosen. The group also agreed that all Legislators should develop answers to questions raised by the small group, leading to this meeting and discussion. The Legislature has set the total amount of the fund at $6.53 million (previously set at $7 million with some funds being taken out to support over target requests in the 2022 budget).
Legislators discussed whether and how to categorize the available grants from the fund, including the size of available grants and the areas of need that the grantees would be addressing. Several Legislators including Klein, Shawna Black (D-Ithaca), and Koreman (D-Ulysses) shared that there should be small grants available for not-for-profit organizations that are smaller and more nimble, with some Legislators including Mike Lane (D-Dryden) and Rich John (D-Ithaca) advocating for a total amount to dedicate to these small grants. Legislator Black recommended a floor of $10,000 for grant requests.
There was discussion on whether a consultant for the process was necessary, and clarification was reached that accountability and oversight would be best done through professional management of the fund. Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) shared that the final accountability is truly to the Legislature who is accountable to the taxpayers. Interim Administrator Lisa Holmes shared that the compliance that this program must follow is related to legal issues on how to use public funds.
Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) shared that his biggest concern is how small communities that need help and lack grant-writing expertise gain access to these funds in an equitable way that accurately reflects their needs. Interim Administrator Holmes stated that the request for proposals was designed in part to address how the consultant would work with all entities and support them through an equitable and supportive process, as well as how they would target underserved communities. All local governments were eligible for American Rescue Plan funds, and data on the estimated total allocation to smaller local municipalities eligible for those funds can be found via the New York State budget website.
Legislators achieved consensus on the following at Monday night’s Expanded Budget Committee meeting:
Three categories for dollar amounts for grant applications:
- Grants requesting between $10,000 - $25,000
- Grants requesting between $25,001 - $250,000
- Grants requesting more than $250,001
Within these three categories, the Expanded Budget Committee agreed to dedicate the following amounts to the categories:
- $500,000 to the $10-25k category
- $1.5 million to the $25-$250k category
- $4 million to the $250k + category
The Expanded Budget Committee agreed to dedicate at least 50% of those amounts to the different grant categories to ensure that grants of several different amounts are supported.
The selected consultant will review and vet the applications that come in through the grant process. Those applications that are approved by the consultant will go to the Legislature, with a brief description to be voted on by the Legislature, similar to the over target request process in the County’s yearly budget process.
The Expanded Budget Committee did not make a final decision on what funds will be used to pay the consultant.
Discussing the ultimate goal of the fund, Legislators examined the phrase “transformative” and whether this fund should be centered on inferred large-scale change for organizations and individuals in needs. An upper cap on the amount that can be requested in a single grant was not set, with several legislators remarking on the potential creativity and impact of applicants.
The clarifications made in this meeting will be shared with the RFP applicants and discussions will continue in future meetings of the Legislature. As more details on the fund become available, Tompkins County will share information directly with local residents and organizations (Click here to subscribe for updates on the Recovery Fund).