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The Montpelier Community Fund

A new way to fund local, non-profit organizations.

Montpelier has a long and proud history of providing generous taxpayer support for non-profit organizations. The city charter allows organizations to seek funding through ballot initiatives, and Montpelier voters traditionally have supported most of these proposals.

In recent years, however, the process has become unwieldy. There were 29 separate funding items for non-profit organizations on last year’s Town Meeting Day ballot. The increasing volume of requests made by ballot initiative presents a number of challenges:
Voters do not have adequate information or time to evaluate each of these requests. Often voters are not aware of funding requests until they enter the voting booth.
Voters do not have the opportunity or ability to weigh these proposals against other potential recipients of municipal funds.
There is no process in place to evaluate the purposes for which the appropriated funds are intended, or if they are actually spent for those purposes.

The city council has adopted a new system for allocating municipal funds to non-profit organizations, similar to what is currently used in Plainfield and Marshfield. Under this proposal, the city will create a separate fund, called the Montpelier Community Fund. This fund will be managed by a board of Montpelier residents who would be appointed by the city council. In the first year, 2013, the city will appropriate to the fund the approximate amount that was placed on this year’s ballot for non-profit organizations – about $100,000. Citizens will be encouraged to make personal contributions to the fund.

The Kellogg-Hubbard Library, which received $293,975 from a ballot initiative last year, will continue to receive funding either through direct city appropriations or ballot initiatives.

The MCF board will solicit applications from non-profit organizations for grants from the fund. The board will take into consideration any prior amounts that organizations have received through ballot initiatives, since many non-profit entities have come to rely on annual city appropriations. The board will also consider the extent to which the grant benefits Montpelier, its residents and the public good.

The MCF board will be responsible for determining that grant funds are used for the purposes for which they were approved.

Under our city charter, non-profit entities would continue to have the right to place funding initiatives on the ballot. To ensure that the new MCF did not simply add a new mechanism to the existing process, funding will be available only to those entities that choose not to petition for funding through a ballot initiative for that year. The MCF fund will also be reduced by the amount to which ballot items are approved, to ensure that the city retains control over the total amount of funds that are appropriated.

I believe this process would be preferable to the current ballot initiative process in several ways:
  • It will create a rational process by which funding requests are considered within the context of an overall budget, with funds allocated based on the needs that are intended to be addressed.
  • It will allow for the subsequent review of grants to ensure that they were spent as intended.
  • It will relieve voters of making funding decisions on an ad hoc basis with little information.
  • It will maintain the city’s commitment to funding non-profit organizations.
  • I welcome your thoughts about this new plan. Please contact me at jhollar@montpelier-vt.org.

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