The City of Sebastopol budget subcommittee met with local non-profits applying for funding through the Community Benefit Grants program at a special meeting via Zoom Tuesday March 30.
The Community Benefit Grants program, outlined in the city’s General Plan, is a means of providing funding for local non-profits to provide for the community’s needs, in lieu of the city operating a Parks and Recreation department. A total of one percent of the city’s general fund is allocated towards such services on an annual basis.
This year, 17 local non-profit organizations applied for funding from the program, with funding requests ranging from $2,000 for the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market to $15,000 for the Mr. Music Foundation. Altogether, the non-profits requested $115,542 from the city for help providing Sebastopol residents with an array of services often provided more directly by larger cities.
The types of services the non-profits in question provide include: combating food insecurity, programs for children and seniors, and music, arts and community events like the Apple Blossom Parade put on by the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce.
The budget subcommittee, which is composed of two city council members—currently Councilmember Neysa Hinton and Mayor Una Glass—is in the process of developing a draft budget for the city’s fiscal year beginning July 1.
“Today was an opportunity for both the public and applicants to expand on applications,” Hinton said of the meeting in an interview with The Voice. “Our city visions sometimes need a little help to be realized.”
Hinton said that although total requests are larger than last year’s, which were just $93,980, the subcommittee asked individual applicants to request 20-25 percent less than last year, as the city had to pull numerous times from the reserves this year to compensate for lost sales tax and other revenue streams due to the pandemic.
However, due to Covid-19, many local non-profits, which rely on private donations and volunteers, have been hurting because of the pandemic’s effects on both the economy and the ability to host events and fundraisers.
Requests for funding through the Community Benefit Grant program included the following:
-Main Stage West, a local venue, asked for the City of Sebastopol to underwrite a show, arguing that its events draw visitors to the town who likely go out to eat or patronize other local businesses. Keith Baker of Main Stage West said Covid-19 has been tough on the business, and even with loosening of restrictions, the theater is in danger of closing. “If we can start a season this fall, we’ll be great,” Baker said. “If we can’t get going this year, I don’t think we’ll be able to stay afloat, period. Main Stage West really is a little gem in a small town like Sebastopol.”
-The Ceres Project asked for a similar amount ($8,125) to help provide meals to food insecure Sebastopol residents. “A generous grant from the city will help us provide organic food and packaging for 2,500 meals to City of Sebastopol residents, in the Covid world that we’re living in, with all fundraising shut down and food insecurity at an all-time high,” Evie Facendini of the Ceres Project said.
-The Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce asked for $10,000 for help putting on the Apple Blossom Festival and Parade, which this year, due to the dangers posed by large crowds, will likely only include a parade.
Hinton said she and Mayor Glass had just finished meeting with non-profits and city departments about the budget. Working with city staff, the subcommittee will compose a draft budget including recommendations about grants towards the local non-profit grant applicants.
“We’re still more at the early stages. It’s a big process to do it right and in a thorough way,” Hinton said.
The draft budget proposal will be completed in mid-May and brought before the entire city council for initial deliberation at their June 1 meeting. Adoption of a final budget is expected at the second meeting in the month of June.