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Proposed changes to the way Cincinnati funds nonprofits are partly moving ahead

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

A Cincinnati Council committee Tuesday approved a motion asking the administration to develop a new process where nonprofits formally apply for funds in the annual budget.

Proposed changes to the way Cincinnati funds nonprofit organizations are partially moving ahead.

Council's Climate, Environment and Infrastructure Committee discussed two motions Tuesday, both from Council Member Meeka Owens, related to taxpayer money for third-party organizations.

The city budget has two mechanisms for this kind of funding: the Human Services Fund (administered by the United Way), and “leveraged support” funding, which includes funding for human services, neighborhood support, and economic development.

The committee approved a motion Tuesday that asks the administration to develop a new process where nonprofits formally apply for line-item funding in the annual budget.

The current process is much less structured; organizations lobby council members directly and spend hours giving public comment during budget hearings.

"Just because the funding came one year, it shouldn't then be included in the next year's budget as a line item," said Council Member Liz Keating. "Organizations should expect that they would have to apply again the following year, and compete with other organizations to get that funding."

The motion asks the administration to report back with the new process by November 30.

Owens' other motion would restructure the Human Services Fund. She wants a third of that city fund to go to one big project, with the rest split between many nonprofits like usual.

"Innovation and government can exist together, and it exists when we bring our best resources, the best information, and our wherewithal and the ability for us to trust that those two things can come together," Owens said.

Setting aside a third of the fund for one project would mean less available for the organizations that usually get funded. Mike Moroski, executive director of the Human Services Chamber, asked the committee to delay a vote for that reason.

"We think the innovation award, the impact award, is a good idea," Moroski said. "The biggest concern is that we don't know what, who, or how [it] will be funded. We don't know what the impact will be to the [other] agencies ... and we just want to make sure that we have some time to have input on those issues."

Council voted this year to increase the HSF to a record high $7.9 million. That's about 33% higher than last year's HSF; if a third of the fund were used for an impact award, the amount of money available for other organizations would be comparable to recent years.

Any changes to the Human Services Fund wouldn't go into effect until next fiscal year, since the city is in year two of the two-year funding cycle.

Administration representatives will report back to Council with more information about the proposed changes.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.