Panel helping review applications for Community Enhancement funds

By Supervisor Dave Roberts

June is when county policy-makers review and approve budgets for the year ahead.

One of the spending programs in our budget is the $3.5 million Community Enhancement Program. To prepare for the dispersal of these funds to local nonprofit groups, each of the five Supervisors must recommend how one-fifth – or $708,000 – of the program’s budget should be allocated. The recommendations must pass with at least four votes.

I take this process very seriously, and that’s why I have added another layer of public review.

For the second straight year, my Third District Community Enhancement Review panel convened to review and make recommendations on more than 600 grant applications totaling nearly $10.8 million in funding requests.

For six hours on June 13, we pored over paperwork at my district office in Escondido.

To promote transparency, we welcomed the public to attend through notices in my weekly newsletter and on social media. We also issued media advisories to invite the press.

To identify panelists, I solicited recommendations from mayors and city council members whose jurisdictions overlap the Third Supervisorial District. The local officials gave me great choices: Bari Vaz (Mira Mesa); Cindy Weir (Escondido); Sharon Omahen (Encinitas); Shirley King (Del Mar); Rich Thesing (Tierrasanta); Ed Muna (Rancho Bernardo); and Frisco White (Carmel Valley). The final seat was filled by Sean Karafin, interim president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

My focus: Do the applications support programs that encourage tourism and economic development? Those are the guiding principles of the Community Enhancement Program, so that question came up again and again. We also asked, What do we know about the applicants? Their financial standing and their work in the community?

Which organizations positively impact the greatest number of people, delivering the best bang for the buck?

We agreed to recommend funding for street fairs and music festivals, theater and dance companies, business booster groups, historical societies, veterans groups and numerous other organizations.

The Community Enhancement Program is funded by transient occupancy taxes – also known as “bed taxes” – collected at hotels in the unincorporated area.

Rather than emptying those receipts into our general operating fund, the Community Enhancement Program allows us allocate them to nonprofit groups whose programs promote local spending.

Earlier this month, during two full days of testimony, representatives from these nonprofit groups – hundreds of them – appeared before the Board of Supervisors. The speakers received two minutes each to make a case for funding their program.

Many of them told us the investment of public dollars would pay dividends. They spoke about the hotel stays, spending and jobs created by their programs.

I am confident that with the help of my review board, my funding allocations will be equitable. I can’t thank the panelists enough for volunteering their time.

The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the Community Enhancement Program recommendations during a 9 a.m. hearing on June 24.

Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.