Cumberland County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe says he wants greater transparency when it comes to handing out money to local nonprofit organizations vying for federal dollars for programs to help the county recover from the economic ill effects of COVID-19.
Keefe is chairman of the Board of Commissioners’ American Rescue Plan Committee. Commissioner Toni Stewart and board Chairman Glenn Adams also are on the committee. The committee met after the full board’s regular 9 a.m. meeting on Tuesday.
All three commissioners questioned why the county should fund nonprofit programs that are already being provided by other entities. After prolonged discussion, Keefe proposed that county staff “relook at the requests” for funding to determine duplication of services, and which programs would benefit the most people.
Keefe and Adams suggested looking at those programs that provide the greatest return on investment in the numbers of people who they serve. Keefe and Adams voted in favor of the motion; Toni Stewart had left the meeting earlier for another commitment. The meeting was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but was delayed by the previous meeting by more than an hour.
During the past several months, the county’s administrative staff has been asking committee members to approve its funding recommendations for 21 nonprofit organizations that submitted proposals for programs to aid the county in COVID-19 recovery efforts. The county staff also wants permission to contact the selected nonprofits to conduct risk assessments to determine if those organizations are fully eligible to carry out their proposed programs and receive funding.
The federal American Rescue Plan Act awarded Cumberland County $65.2 million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, and the board allocated $3.5 million to fund nonprofit organizations to come up with programs and projects that would help the county recover from the negative effects of the pandemic.
The county in January asked local nonprofits to submit proposals for programs and projects.
The county administration formed an internal committee that ranked the nonprofits, listing their funding requests and proposed projects.
The county received 42 responsive, or qualified, proposals from 38 nonprofit organizations. Cape Fear Valley Mobile Integrated Services submitted two proposals: NARCAN and Community Paramedic programs, which will be funded as sub-awards through the county's Substance Use Services and Behavioral Health Services ARP projects.
The county administration then established an ARP Nonprofit Review Panel, composed of various county staff and county legal experts who reviewed and ranked the proposals. The ranking, according to county staff, was in accordance with the Responsive Proposal Review Guidelines approved by the full board at its May 16 regular meeting.
Based on these earlier guidelines, the county’s legal team identified 19 proposals ineligible for sub-award. The panel has not reviewed these proposals. The remaining 21 proposals have been ranked from highest to lowest.
At its Aug. 5 meeting, the committee asked county staff to gather more detailed information from the remaining 21 nonprofits. County staff provided additional information, including a more detailed explanation of projects, the length of time each entity has operated, each entity's annual budget, and a copy of their most recent IRS Form 990 (IRS tax exempt status).
On Tuesday, committee members still had questions after noting that some of the nonprofits were asking for amounts of money that exceeded their current annual operating budget for programs that were already in place and offered by other agencies. For example, several organizations proposed rental assistance, something the county already provides.
Adams said six of the 21 nonprofits offered the same proposal. “How are they scored differently if they offer the same services,” he asked.
Keefe and Adams also questioned funding requests, saying that nonprofits could ask for any amount of money without county staff questioning the amounts.
“How did they (nonprofit organizations) come up with the numbers (dollar amounts),” Keefe asked.
Both committee members said that some of the proposed programs were beyond the nonprofit’s mission, while other programs appeared to be duplicates of what the groups were already offering.
County Attorney Rick Moorefield said the board could reduce the amount of money requested by the nonprofits, but the board would have to clearly articulate the reason for not funding a program at the requested amount. He said federal regulations come into play when dealing with RFPs.
Keefe repeatedly emphasized the need for transparency, and Adams said “everybody should get a fair amount and all treated equally.”
Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.