Spending other people’s money is a big responsibility. And the Harnett County Board of Commissioners showed how true that is when they voted 3-2 not to give tax money to private not-for-profit organizations during the coming budget year.
Of course, the groups asking for the money are all worthy causes. As Commissioner Barbara McKoy of Lillington rightly said, “All of these organizations are contributing something to the county and to the needs of the citizens of this county.”
Last year, for example, the county gave $7,000 to Buddy Backpacks and $5,000 to the Beacon Rescue Mission. Fifteen organizations received a total of $63,500. For the upcoming budget, commissioners were considering $66,750 in grants, which the board’s nonprofit committee had whittled down from about $83,000 in requests.
Considering the county’s budget of more than $200 million, these grants to nonprofits have consumed a tiny percentage of county spending. But they point to a couple of bigger issues.
First: Should taxpayer dollars be given to any private charity?
“I would much prefer to see our communities, our civic groups, religious groups that we have in the county step up and help these organizations as needed,” said Chairman Brooks Matthews of Buies Creek.
Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon of Angier called the grants “pork barrel” spending.
Mr. Matthews and Mr. Weatherspoon both voted against the funding, as did Commissioner Matt Nicol of Sanford, who brought up the next issue: Can Harnett taxpayers afford to make these grants?
“[W]e don’t even have enough [money] coming in to educate our children, let alone the other services we’re trying to nickel-and-dime for the sheriff’s department,” Mr. Nicol said.
Consider also that none of these charities are anywhere close to being solely dependent on county dollars. They have other funding sources and will continue with their good works.
One point of frustration for Ms. McKoy and for Commissioner Mark Johnson of Dunn, who both voted for the funding, is that the board asked its nonprofit committee to recommend a list of grant recipients without giving a cap on how much was available to give.
“We did what you asked us to do,” Ms. McKoy said of her work with the nonprofit committee.
And Chairman Matthews conceded that, “Hindsight being 20/20, if we wanted to limit this expense we probably should’ve given the committee a ceiling. …”
But putting process aside, did the board come to the right conclusion?
Those who voted against the funding were not being miserly; they were just trying to be good stewards of taxpayer resources. Remember, there’s nothing generous about giving away someone else’s money.
And those who voted for the funding were not being frivolous, as such a small percentage of the budget was at issue.
Those on both sides of this issue acted with good will. But on balance, getting county government out of the private charity business was probably the right call.
— Bart Adams