County Could Phase Out Some Non-Profits

The Charlotte Observer
Ruth Samuelson
Jun 12, 2004

As Mecklenburg County commissioners work toward a common sense, no tax increase budget, I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to restructure government's relationship with private organizations. Through a systematic and measured approach, we can make government more focused and more efficient while strengthening this community's charities.

Currently, taxpayers fund dozens of charitable organizations in this community. Some of these charities perform crucial services that help the government fulfill its state and federally mandated obligations. Others perform wonderful work and successfully fulfill their mission, but that mission is outside the scope of county government's responsibility. In order to help our local government regain the focus that it lost when tax revenues were plentiful, I have proposed a restructuring of the relationship between local government and nonprofits. First, I think it is crucial that government privatize services when an outside agency can meet a core county responsibility better than the government bureaucracy. For instance, the county is charged with providing substance abuse services. If a charitable organization can achieve better results or lower costs, the county should enter into a contract with that organization for those services. We must then closely monitor the relationship to ensure that taxpayers are continuing to get the results we expected.

While some of the organizations receiving taxpayer funds fall into the "privatized services" category, others are simply recipients of funds provided at the discretion of the board of county commissioners. Depending on your perspective, you may think of this funding as extending county services, charitable giving or pork barrel spending. Either way, it diverts money away from the core responsibilities of the county and from the pockets of the taxpayers.

Quite frankly, I think reliance upon the county government for these funds has prevented some charities from reaching their full potential. In every successful charitable organization that I have encountered, a key to the groups' overall success has been their ability to raise private funds. Private donors make sure that the organization remains focused and successful. Those donors often give their time and talent as well as their money to make the organization better.

This year, I am proposing a three-year phase-out of county funding for those organizations currently receiving county money but not performing county functions. This phase-out will allow the county government to refocus its resources on its core responsibilities. It will also allow these charities to transform themselves from the dependency of taxpayer support to the strength of independent support. Over the next three years, I believe the county can help these organizations grow stronger by educating them on fund-raising strategies and developing their ability to prosper without a check from the government.

The county government has funded many worthwhile charities that I support wholeheartedly. In fact, I will personally contribute to some of my favorites even as I vote to reduce their funding in the county budget. I hope you will consider supporting your favorite charity, too. However, the continued use of taxpayer funds to run these charities will only keep the nonprofits from reaching their full potential while preventing government from regaining the focus it needs to provide the maximum value to taxpayers. I hope others will join me in helping our county refocus on its priorities in a way that strengthens the charities in our community.

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