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Board's Usual Grants Not so Usual

Most O.C. supervisors have each sprinkled $75,000 a year to nonprofits. But a board vacancy makes tie votes likely, blocking funds.

January 12, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Community nonprofit groups that get thousands of dollars a year in grants from Orange County fear that a power shift on the Board of Supervisors will shut off the spigot.

Each supervisor can designate $75,000 a year for local groups -- including soup kitchens, after-school initiatives, booster clubs, arts organizations -- though the board as a whole votes on each proposed expenditure. The grants are modest -- from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars -- but they make a difference to groups with small budgets.

For eight years, county Supervisor Jim Silva has cast the sole vote against these grants. Opposed to using taxpayer money to fund private groups, Silva found himself on the losing side of a 4-1 vote at nearly every Board of Supervisors meeting.

But now, Silva has found a soul mate in new Supervisor Chris Norby, who is also expressing concerns about the grants. Both say they will vote against new grants.

Their stance will hold special sway this month, before an election to fill a vacant seat on the board. Their opposition would result in 2-2 ties.

This leaves nonprofits worried.

"It's money that made a difference. [Losing] it would certainly affect us," said Paul Andresen, chief executive officer of the Anaheim Family YMCA. "We don't want to get into the politics of it, but we certainly have appreciated the help we've had from the county. It has helped us provide a very important after-school program that serves 2,000 people a day."

The Y received $15,000 late last year to help pay for Anaheim Achieves, an after-school educational program for elementary pupils at 16 campuses. The grant makes up the gap between the state and federal funding for the program and its total cost.

Neither Silva nor Norby contest the benefits of the various nonprofits who receive the grants. They also acknowledge that the $375,000 annual fund is a tiny fraction of the county's $4-billion budget.

But both say an important principle is at stake: How county money should be spent.

"I've been a high school teacher. I think grad night is very important," Silva said. "My wife and I have gone down -- we've worked grad night, we've put our money into it. But I don't feel I should be putting in county money to support grad night.

"I feel that the county has a mission -- we have county programs and county departments we have to fund," he added. "And I don't believe in putting money into social programs, such as Boy Scout troops or grad nights or Boys & Girls Clubs because they have fund-raisers where they can generate income for those programs."

Silva has refused to spend his allotment since taking office, creating a $330,000 stockpile. He has allowed it to be used on three occasions, when county funding could not be found to support county-run programs.

Norby, also a former teacher whose conservative views on government finances mirror Silva's, said, "If any organization is entitled to public money, they should have to go through the budget process."

He added that doing away with the fund is especially important because the county is forced to make cuts in the face of the state's $35-billion budget deficit.

"Looking at the budget crisis, the board is going to be faced with a lot of cutbacks. It's going to hit close to home. This is certainly

"If this ever had a place, that place is gone."

But nonprofits say this is a bad time to cut back, because of a decline in donations. They've been hit by a slow economy and diversion of charitable dollars to 9/11 victims and their families.

"Donations tend to be slightly down and need has risen dramatically over the last year," said Maria Dzida, director of the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen in Santa Ana, which serves 700 hot meals every Saturday. The board gave the group $6,000 last year to buy food.

"Any decline in donations will have a dramatic effect on the ability of the various groups to meet the needs of the people they are serving," she said.

The Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim, which has received $10,000 since 2000 and has been approved for two additional grants totaling $10,000, said the money has helped expand a transportation program so children from low-income families living in motels can participate.

The program would survive without the county funding, Executive Director Michael Baker said, but it could push smaller, less well-known organizations over the edge. "There's more competition when sources of revenue dry up and you have to go elsewhere," he said. "It makes it tougher."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Where recent funds went

Two Orange County supervisors -- half the current board until the fifth seat is filled -- oppose grants the board gives to local nonprofit groups. Grants the board approved in November:

$25,000 grants went to each:

O.C. Sheriff's Advisory Council

Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs

O.C. Fire Authority Benevolent Fund

Santa Ana Education Foundation

$15,000 grants:

Anaheim Family YMCA

$7,500 grants:

Sid Goldstein Freedom Park

$5,000 grants:

Placentia Library Foundation

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