50% Increase Proposed for Next Fiscal Year

RIOC Board: Public Purpose Gets a Boost But Controversy Remains

Updated 43 weeks ago David Stone
Rehearsals for MST&DA original musical, Northanger Abbey, this year. Public Purpose Funds make events possible for many local organizations.
Rehearsals for MST&DA original musical, Northanger Abbey, this year. Public Purpose Funds make events possible for many local organizations.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily file photo

As RIOC's Board unanimously passed a $51 million proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning on April 1st, Board Member Margie Smith made a point that the allocation for Public Purpose Funds was being increased by 50%, an uptick for which residents have pleaded for years.

Increasing Public Purpose Funds

Local nonprofits, including arts and service groups, depend on grants from RIOC for everything from rent to special projects.

An increase in funding, from $100,000 to $150,000, was included in a proposed budget that will be sent to Albany for final approval for the fiscal year starting April 1st, 2018.

The Wildlife Freedom Foundation, for example, uses the money to help Roosevelt Island's feral animal population, and Island Kids asked for support to fill a gap by extending its enrichment programing to children older than those they've previously served.

The giving out of Public Purpose Funds required special State legislation that allows RIOC to distribute up to 3% of its budget for worthy local nonprofit efforts. While the new amount falls far short of what the State agency has permission to give, a 50% increase is a generous step in the right direction.

It will help, but there's a general consensus that much more is needed.

Acknowledging RIRA's Dave Evans

A rare highlight of the evening, a round of applause seldom heard during RIOC Board Meetings, came when Board Member Michael Shinozaki called Dave Evans to the podium.

Evans, a Southtown RIRA Common Council Member, heads a subcommittee charged with screening requests first approved by RIOC and deciding how to divvy up the money among applicants. His leadership in applying consistent standards of fairness is widely appreciated.

Objections to Funds for PS/IS 217's PTA

Recent cycles of the PPF granting process have been troubled by protests over the qualifications of applicants okayed by RIOC. This year was no different as a letter from resident Frank Farance detailing objections to giving any money to PS/IS 217's PTA forced the Board to take up the issue.

Lead by Members David Kraut and Fay Christian, the Board asked RIOC staff to explain their vetting procedures, especially in regard to Farance's complaint.

Farance's challenge to awarding funds approved by the Common Council committee rested on two critical points.

First, Farance provided evidence he believes shows that the PTA did not spend its previous grant according to the terms for which it was given, specifically for enhancement programing.

Sean Singh, who oversees the internal RIOC process, said that he was still looking into documents supplied by the PTA. Last year's approved funds have not yet been distributed, pending his review. RIOC does not release the money until a group proves that it's being spent appropriately.

Farance's second complaint, for which he provided documentation, is that the PTA is in violation of its IRS 401(c)3 approval because, among other things, it has improperly used another nonprofit's credentials in filing with IRS and does not meet requirements for public disclosure of financial reporting.

This opened up a discussion about responsibilities for vetting applicants and whether RIOC's procedures needed to be reviewed and changed, if appropriate.

In general, the Board agreed with Christian that "It’s our job to check when a resident provides evidence" of something amiss. And there was corresponding agreement that RIOC had the tools in place to do so, if not necessarily an effective process.

“You need to read (Farance's) letter,” Christian told Singh.

"If it merits responses," added Board Chair Alex Valella, “Do your due diligence.”

With Farance's protest encouraging discussion, it seems likely we will hear more about how RIOC vets applicants and their practices, both before and after reviews take place. 

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