ITHACA N.Y.—The executive and deputy directors of the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County (HSC) delivered a detailed presentation on the county’s community agency funding process to the Housing and Economic Development Committee at the monthly meeting June 6.
The presentation was shared light of the county’s approaching budget discussions, which are scheduled to be finalized in November 2023. John Mazello, deputy director of HSC, said that recommendations for which agencies and organizations will receive funding are being reviewed by the organization’s Funding Review Committee this week.
The HSC partnered with the county to select and manage the distribution of public funding to community organizations since 1974, the year the organization was founded.
A few agencies supported in last year’s process include St. John’s Community Services Friendship Center, a homeless shelter in Ithaca, as well as Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, an organization that provides essential services to refugees and immigrants that come to the Ithaca area.
Cindy Wilcox, executive director of the HSC and Mazello, gave members of the legislature a refresher on the organization’s city/county review process used to select community organizations to receive funding from the county before the 2024 budget is approved.
Tompkins County community agency funding exists as a partnership between Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca. This means that funding available for distribution to community agencies from the county comes from two different sources: city sales tax and also Tompkins County funds, according to Mazello.
“A big chunk of the [funding] comes from the city,” Mazello said. “Last year, $411,000 came from the city as part of the city and county’s sales tax agreement.” The amount available, because it depends on sales taxes, can go up or down, year to year. Last year Tompkins County funding made up $1,188,109 of the funding, according to the presentation.
HSC follows the same process and timelines of county departments in order to streamline the process. Recommendations are delivered to the county administration in July, said Mazello, andt he application for funding process begins in the “early months of the year.”
This is the time the organization meets with each agency to help them consider whether or not they would like to apply, or qualify for, county funding. The agencies are historically referred to the HSC throughout the previous year from legislators, county administrators and sometimes, officials from the city.
After the HSC has assisted agencies in completing and submitting written applications, each agency has the opportunity to meet with HSC’s Funding Review Committee, which is composed of community members with experience in non-profit work.
“A valuable part of the process is to talk with the committee to answer questions and really share,” Mazello said. “I feel like over the years, we’ve tried to build a collegial environment that allows organizations to be honest with us and allows our committee to be honest with them.”
The HSC’s Funding Review Committee deliberates and makes recommendations for allocations based on a number of criteria: the community need and the agency’s ability to respond to that need, the strength of their application, the fiscal health of the organization, staffing capacity and more.
The committee is going through deliberations and evaluations this month to determine which agencies receive funding and the amount, according to Mazello. Then, it makes recommendations to the HSC’s Board of Directors, who reviews and approves them. HSC then shares the recommendations with the county administration through the budget process.
Wilcox shared trends and themes the HSC has observed after meeting with community agencies and organizations. Mostly, even after coming out of the pandemic fog, the agencies still need assistance.
“I won’t say they are thriving,” Wilcox said. “ But they are more stable than they were [in the pandemic], and things are looking up now.”
State funding has also been an issue, she said, because “state contracts have not kept pace with inflation,” leaving agencies to “fill the gap,” all while paying staff more.
She said agencies and organizations are beginning to look toward the future again, with plans to expand their reach in the community and the organizations themselves by hiring more staff and paying existing employees more.