LCG to change funding mechanism for NGOs

by Walter Pierce

City-Parish President Joey Durel Monday announced a proposed change to the way Lafayette Consolidated Government funds nonprofit agencies in the parish City-Parish President Joey Durel Monday announced a proposed change to the way Lafayette Consolidated Government funds nonprofit agencies in the parish. Heretofore, more than two dozen agencies - social service providers like Big Brothers Big Sisters as well as cultural agencies such as Festival International - shared a roughly $453,000 pot of money, more than 60 percent of which went to social service agencies.

Under the new system, money used to fund the non-governmental agencies through a competitive application process would come from franchise fees paid to LCG by Cox Communications and Lafayette Utilities System's Fiber service. Currently, those entities generate about $840,000 in franchise fees annually, although Durel says he wants the funding to remain "status quo" - $450,000, as in years past - at the outset.

LCG's Community Development Department headed by Ben Berthelot will appoint a 5-person panel to award the social service funding, according to Durel's plan, with a $25,000 cap for each agency receiving funding. The Acadiana Center for the Arts, also using a panel, will award the arts funding. Cultural providers will face a $17,500 cap - a $10,000 cap for operational funding and a $7,500 cap for programming. Because the AcA, which opens its theater expansion this fall and whose operating costs in its city-owned facility downtown will consequently rise considerably, would administer the funding on behalf of LCG, it will not be eligible for funding through this new mechanism. Durel and AcA Executive Director Gerd Wuestemann say a separate budget mechanism for funding the AcA is being ironed out. Also, groups like Festival International and the Mardi Gras associations, which historically have received considerably more than the $17,500 they will be eligible for under the new funding system, will likely get separate line items in the budget the Durel administration will hand to the council at the end of July.

"We've had this discussion about nonprofits since I've been in office," Durel said at a Monday press conference at City Hall. "If you remember, my first couple of years in office I zeroed them out. And my biggest issue was always that it was tax dollars that had never been voted on by the people of Lafayette to spend on agencies external to the government."

There has traditionally been enough support on the council to fund NGOs that the agencies have received the money each year despite Durel's fiscal misgivings. LCG's chief executive has since tempered his tone, saying he supports funding for cultural agencies which show a return on the investment. But funding social service agencies in particular has become a bone of contention on the council, with some more fiscally conservative members voting to get LCG out of the business of funding all NGOs.

Durel hopes the new funding mechanism will resolve the issue. "We've struggled with it, and we've gotten the message from the council and many people in the community that they want to see us continue to fund nonprofits, the external agencies, but each year it seemed to be the same battle. So, we've been talking about what can we do to change the process, to start changing the process."

It's unclear whether the City-Parish Council will know which agencies have been selected by the two panels to receive funding this year by the time it votes on whether to approve the new funding mechanism as part of the budget process. Social service and arts/culture agencies can pick up applications at City Hall beginning Wednesday, June 9. Those applications must be returned by June 30, at which time the panels at Community Development and the AcA will begin the review process.