In the past, the Guilford County budget process – when it comes to funding non-profits – has always worked this way: The county manager, along with a staff committee, has gone through the applications from non-profits and community-based organizations, such as various YMCAs, art foundations, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and many others asking for funding.  Then, the county commissioners held public work sessions to decide which groups would get taxpayer money and which would not.

One can argue about the wisdom of using taxpayer money for this purpose, but at least the process was done out in the open. The choices of which organizations to fund were often controversial because, in many cases, the commissioners on the board had clear ties to those organizations – which, in the past, have been referred to by the media as “pet projects” of the commissioners.

This year, for the first time, the board has conducted the whole process in secret, and, when the Board of Commissioners adopts the new fiscal 2024-2025 county budget on Thursday evening, June 20, the list of non-profits funded by taxpayers will be unveiled with no clue as to what – if any – thinking went into the process.

It will be like Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments.

In the past, a long list of recommended non-profits to be funded was included in the manager’s proposed budget, along with recommended amounts; however, this year, mysteriously, the list was completely absent from the recommended budget.  Budget staff, when asked about the missing information in the budget, confirmed that indeed there was no list this year.

Instead of a highly detailed spreadsheet listing the organizations that met the criteria for the county’s financial support, in this year’s budget proposal, there was a mostly blank page with the following on it, “Guilford County recognizes the value of investing in the betterment of its community and the agencies that strive towards that goal. The County’s policy can be found here: Community-Based Organization (CBO) Funding Policy.

It goes on to say, “This budget includes $1.70 million based on the adopted funding policy of 0.2 percent of the General Fund budget. An additional $565,000 is included for historical economic development organizations …Awarded organizations will be listed here with the Adopted Budget.”

What is very funny about the county sharing a link to Guilford County’s Community Based Organization (CBO) Funding Policy is that, even though it is a lengthy document with lots of rules and criteria, every year it’s completely thrown out the window at budget time.

Several times this century the commissioners and staff have spent a phenomenal amount of time working to develop a rational, sane process to establish a fair policy for funding the non-profits –then each year when budget time rolled around the board proceeded to throw out the funding policy.  So, it is amusing that the county budget directs people this year to the county’s non-profit funding policy since it’s never followed.

Even Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston isn’t shy about admitting it.

“The policy is this: Whatever non-profits five commissioners say get money, do get money,” he said this week.

Five votes make up a majority on the nine-member Board of Commissioners

For the latest version of the policy, several years ago the Board of Commissioners tasked poor Budget Director Toy Beeninga with the job and he and his staff worked for months on a policy.  At various steps along the way, Beeninga came before the commissioners to get their input.  At the end of that process, the board unanimously adopted the policy and then, when budget time came around that year, the commissioners threw it out the window.

At least in previous years, however, these negotiations were handled in open meetings. North Carolina law allows a handful of exceptions for handling the people’s business behind closed doors. Deciding which non-profits to fund in a county budget isn’t one of those exceptions.