DUNEDIN — The city had its heart in the right place, setting aside $140,000 to fund grants to local nonprofit organizations, but funding issues sent the process spiraling into confusion that twice resulted in dramatic cuts to two major organizations: the Dunedin Fine Art Center and Historical Society Museum.
The Aid to Organizations Committee, comprised of three members: Commissioner Jeff Gow, City Manager Jennifer Bramley and Director of Finance Les Tyler, met several times in June and July to review and discuss applications for Aid to Organizations, Tyler told commissioners.
A problem arose a few months ago when the committee’s initial funding recommendation was presented to city commissioners.
At that time, city commissioners sent the Aid To Organizations Committee back to the drawing board to reconsider how some organizations received funding, and asking them to return with another recommendation, mainly because of big cuts recommended for the Dunedin Fine Art Center and Historical Society Museum.
At the Aug. 22 City Commission meeting, the committee returned for a second time with the same recommended grant funding. The Dunedin Fine Arts Center and Historical Museum were left facing dramatic funding cuts for a second time.
Under the funding committee’s proposal, money doled out to the Dunedin Fine Art Center will be reduced from last year’s $52,000 to $20,000 in 2020, even though the museum requested their stipend be raised to $75,000.
Grant funds awarded to the Dunedin Historical Society Museum would be cut from $56,000 to $34,000, even though they requested $60,000.
However, the Aid To Organizations Committee recommended grant funding increases to several other groups. A grant to the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation was raised from $6,000 last year to their requested $10,000 in 2020; Dunedin Cares, which received $9,400 in 2019, will get their requested $25,000 in 2020; 211 Tampa Bay Cares would receive their requested $1,000, versus $500 last year; the Florida Dream Center, which did not receive a grant award last year, will receive $2,000 in 2020, and the Scottish American Society’s grant rose from $3,000 to $4,000.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes called big cuts in funding to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center and Historical Society Museum “precipitous intervention,” or an action done suddenly and without careful consideration.
“How can you go from funding $52,000 last year to $35,000 this year?” she asked.
She added the cuts were done without giving each agency time to make up for the shortfall.
Kynes added, “the Dunedin Fine Arts Center and Historical Museum should be treated as separate entities. I think committee process is flawed. When you have long-term partners you don’t surprise them… . I don’t think we gave them enough fair warning not to give them each $52,000.”
Commissioner Maureen Freaney said, “sometimes it’s not what you do, but how you do it…I think you guys went in there and said who has the greatest need. The city manager said, at the first meeting, we looked at it from a social service needs perspective.”
“We have two long-standing partners, (the DFAC and Historical Museum) I do think they are different. When you have long-standing partners you don’t surprise them. I would be comfortable with what the Museum and Art Center got last year, less 2 percent,” Freaney said.
“To me you talk to your partners and you figure out a plan,” Freaney said. “That’s how you treat long-standing partners, because it’s about relationships and partnerships. I’m not up here to give away money; I want to protect a very valuable partnership that is at the very core of who we are as a community.”
Bramley said increasing both the DFAC and Historical Museum back to their original $50,000 funding is a third of the grants budget.
“That’s a lot,” she added.
“I get it, but I think we put some very important decisions in a square peg, and have to reach outside of that and say ‘what is the right thing to do with our long-standing partners,’ with something more than we’ve done,” Freaney answered.
Commissioner Heather Gracy told the DFAC and Historical Museum “we impacted your grant possibilities and that struck me because I don’t want to cut you off at the knees. We know you are spending wisely. I have to support long-standing partners with something more.”
Gow, the commission’s member on the funding committee said, “You have no idea, when I got assigned or blessed to be on this committee what an opportunity I felt I had; it’s basically free money. We have nonprofits in the community all of them working so hard for what they believe in and it’s an opportunity to give them money.”
“I can’t tell you how hard we looked at all of this,” Gow said.
He said the city has given a lot of money to the Fine Arts Center every year.
“How about somebody else? What about some of the little guys?” he said.
He said the committee had a budget to work with and now he has nothing but stress.
“The process is incredibly flawed. When it came back for a second time the directions we were given was take away money from somebody else. The money has to come from someplace,” Gow said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said “what I am hearing is there is some amount of money we want to add to aid the two organizations.”
She noted that at the earlier meeting she directed staff to “add money to the grant formula if they thought it necessary; they came back to us and did not add any more to it; there has to be a reason for that. We did say, if that’s a recommendation you can accomplish to do it, and they didn’t.”
Bramley said she anticipated the commission would ask staff to add additional money, but not $50,000. She envisioned the Fine Arts Center coming up to $34,000 from the proposed $20,000. “That’s something we could absorb in a number of different ways. We will do what you direct us to do, but it’s got to come from somewhere,” Bramley said.
Commissioners decided to bring grant funding for both the DFAC and Historical Society Museum up to the same amount to be fair to both sides, $42,000 each, which is $10,000 less than was funded last year for the DFAC and $14,000 less for the Historical Society Museum.