PORTSMOUTH TOWN COUNCIL NOTES

Portsmouth sets guidelines for civic support requests

Nonprofits must prove they primarily serve the town

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/26/19

PORTSMOUTH — Local nonprofits vying for civic support from the town during budget deliberations next spring will need to make their case in writing by mid-January under a new set of rules …

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PORTSMOUTH TOWN COUNCIL NOTES

Portsmouth sets guidelines for civic support requests

Nonprofits must prove they primarily serve the town

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Local nonprofits vying for civic support from the town during budget deliberations next spring will need to make their case in writing by mid-January under a new set of rules approved by the Town Council Monday.

Under the new policy recommended by Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., each request for funding must be submitted on a special civic support request form, accompanied by proof of the agency’s 501c(3) nonprofit status as well as additional financial information. Organizations currently receiving funding will be notified by the town of the need to submit funding requests, Mr. Rainer said. Applications must be signed by an authorized officer of the agency and received by the town’s finance office by Jan. 17, 2020. 

The administrator said a survey of Rhode Island cities and towns found eight communities with established procedures that were useful in drafting the new rules.

The new policy’s purpose is to fund projects or programs offered by non-profit organizations that primarily benefit Portsmouth residents, Mr. Rainer said. 

Programs or services that primarily serve residents who live outside of Portsmouth will not be funded with civic appropriations. Also ineligible for civic support are political activities or marketing and/or fund-raising.

Council member Leonard Katzman said he hopes the new guidelines will serve as a “baseline,” and that the council has the discretion to require more conditions when civic support requests are being reviewed.

“I wouldn’t want these guidelines to be looked on as, ‘If you check all the boxes, you will get funding,’” Mr. Katzman said.

Council member Daniela Abbott, however, said the council must be careful not to impose arbitrary requirements for some groups and not others.

Larry Fitzmorris of the taxpayer group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens said he generally supported the new criteria. However, he cautioned the council that 501c(3)s are allowed “limited political activities” under the law.

“I don’t think the council should be employing tax money to support any political activities,” Mr. Fitzmorris said, while acknowledging he didn’t believe that to be the new policy’s intent.

Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa said she believed the policy was a “great first step” and if the council finds it to have any flaws, changes can be made before the following year’s budget cycle.

The “civic support” portion of the town’s spending plan, which accounts for more than $900,000 in expenditures, came under debate during budget deliberations earlier this year. The list of requests included the library, the senior center, the Portsmouth Historical Society, but also organizations such as Clean Ocean Access, the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District and Newport County Community Mental Health Center.

Also listed under civic support was the Prudence Island Volunteer Fire Department, a nonprofit which is not considered a town department. Putting essential public safety services under civic support was insulting, some islanders told the council.

Budget timeline

In other business Monday, the council approved Mr. Rainer’s tentative timeline for the preparation of the fiscal 2021 budget. 

Monday night’s presentation of the transfer station’s enterprise fund was one of the first items on the list. Next month, a capital improvement plan workshop will be held.

Civic support requests are due Jan. 17, and they will be reviewed and approved by the council by Jan. 27. Department budget reviews with the administrator will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 7, the school budget will be submitted by March 24, and Mr. Rainer’s proposed budget will be completed by March 27.

An overview of the budget will be presented April 20 to the council, which will review the spending plan on April 21, April 22 and, if necessary, April 23. The council will adopt a provisional budget on May 11, and a public hearing will be held June 10.

The final budget will be adopted by the council on June 22.

Resignations/appointments

The council received word that Matt Murphy, the town’s facility maintenance manager, is resigning effective Dec. 6.

Also leaving is Corey Silvia, the coordinator of the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition. He accepted an offer as a grants and contracts specialist at a local university, according to Mr. Rainer.

The council accepted with regret the resignation of Joshua Leard from the Dog Park Committee.

The council re-appointed Nancy Parker Wilson to the Agricultural Committee.

Manor House contract

The council unanimously approved a new, two-year contract with the resident managers of the town-owned Glen Manor House, Catherine and Donald Wilkinson.

The current contract expires on Dec. 31. Mr. Rainer negotiated the new contract along with the Glen Manor House Authority. 

There are two changes from the current contract, Mr. Rainer said:

• The period of the contract begins Jan. 1, 2020 and ends at midnight on Dec. 31, 2021. The managers may renew the agreement for an additional two-year term, provided they have not previously been issued a warning regarding unsatisfactory job performance or otherwise re the subject of proceedings which could lead to suspension or discharge.

• The commission will be 15 percent of the net house rental receipts (total rent receipts minus refunds). The previous commission, of 12 percent, had remained unchanged for 13 years, according to Mr. Rainer. The resident managers will be paid half commission on net house rental receipts for any bookings they made for three months after the contract expires.

A provision added to the previous contract extension, that the Wilkinsons would help the town and any future managers/operators of the Glen Manor House during the six-month period before the contract expires, was retained in the new contract.

Future meetings

The council’s next two regular Monday meetings will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 and Jan. 13. The regular scheduled Dec. 23 meeting was cancelled.

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