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Graton Casino funds to help community projects

  • Photo by Robert Grant

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
March 2, 2018

On Feb. 13, the board of directors for the City of Rohnert Park Foundation, a non-profit, charitable corporation formed by the city in 2008, met to discuss how the Graton Casino mitigation community investment funds could be administered and could be used to establish a community grant program. 

The Foundation was formed to raise and manage funds for various civic purposes and projects that benefit the community of Rohnert Park. In May, 2017 the Foundation board authorized a memorandum of understanding to accept on-going casino mitigation community investment donations provided by the city’s agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. These funds do not include those guaranteed recurring funds the city receives to mitigate the impact of the casino on the community of Rohnert Park and to the county of Sonoma. Those funds, amounting to approximately $8 million annually, are designated for services like law enforcement, storm water mitigation and other public services. 

Contributions to the Foundation for the community investment funds began in the fourth quarter of the 2016/2017 fiscal year and are paid quarterly. As of Dec. 31, 2017, the Foundation has received $229,269 which includes three quarters of contributions thus far. 

“In a year we expect to receive about $300,000 for the Rohnert Park Foundation and about a million dollars for the neighborhood upgrade and workforce housing program,” says Leonardo Tacata, Senior Analyst for the City of Rohnert Park. 

The neighborhood upgrade and workforce housing program allots money to various capital improvement projects, neighborhood services and housing related issues.

The $300,000 going to the Rohnert Park Foundation will be split into three main categories, with $100,000 going to a small grants program, another $100,000 going to city projects which don’t have a traditional funding stream or may be underfunded and $50,000 going to enhance the fee waiver program for community facilities. The fee waiver program allows community groups that want to use a city facility such as the gym or a park to be able to apply to get a fee waiver for the use of the facility. The remaining $50,000 will remain in the fund to allow for flexibility for future projects and in order to build up a reserve.

“The MOU explicitly says that the Rohnert Park Foundation shall get this non-guaranteed money for community investment when it becomes available,” says Tacata. “They started getting these recurring non- guaranteed contributions and the amount is $300,000 a year. What the city council and Foundation board decided to do Feb. 13 was to establish a framework for how to distribute those contributions to the community.”

The idea behind the community small grants program is to give small $5,000 max grants to community members and organizations to do community project, instead of making initial commitments of larger donations, the Foundation feels that the small grants could spread the funds to smaller groups that do not traditionally seek funding from larger foundations. 

The city hopes the small grant program will kick off on July 1, in the new fiscal year. However, individuals or groups can apply for the grants as soon as late March, with final decisions of fund recipients made by late May or June. Contracts for the grants will start July 1.

“The criteria haven’t been established yet but will reflect on how flexible these funds are,” says Tacata. “The purpose of these funds is to benefit the Rohnert Park community. It could be for building community gardens, for a community service project a particular neighborhood wants to take on, or it could be for setting up a special class. The grants will need to have an accounting function and they’re going to be distributed as contracts. So, it will need to be somebody who will be responsible for this seed money through a contract. There’s going to be outcome measures attached so we can do a report on what kinds of activities came out of these programs. But we’re not going to make it so difficult or restrictive that it has to be for a particular type of program. It’s very important though that these particular funds be distributed to benefit the community of Rohnert Park.”

Since this is the first year of this program, criteria or funds distributed may change in the future. However, subsequent grant cycles will follow the same annual schedule of applications being submitted in the spring with approvals determined in June in coordination with the city council annual budget adoption, and agreements initiated in July.