City of Watertown adopts new policy for providing financial assistance to local groups

By Matt Bunke, Community Editor

The city of Watertown has adopted a new policy that it hopes will improve communication with local service groups and aid in the annual budgeting process when it comes to distributing money to those organizations.

The new policy will ask local service organizations to submit a request for funding prior to the budgeting process each year, so the city council can make decisions regarding how much money to include in the budget for each group. In previous years, there has been no formal request process, meaning that when the budget is prepared, estimated amounts are arbitrarily set aside for each organization. Frequently, this has resulted in the city not having adequate funds available for groups at the time of their requests.

Historically, the city of Watertown has not been in a position to provide recreational and cultural programming to the community due to limitations on staff and resources. However, the city has sought instead to work with local civic groups to address needs that exist in the community through contributions to organizations that provide programming for youth or adults, or arts and culture programming.

The new Request For Proposals process, which was approved by the city council at its June 12 meeting, will take effect for the 2013 budget. Groups in Watertown are asked to submit a proposal for their funding needs prior to Aug. 1, and all funds will be dispersed to groups after Jan. 1. The city will no longer accept requests mid-year.

The city hopes the Request For Proposals process creates clearer two-way communication between the city and various groups, formalizes the previously informal relationship with these groups, and helps provide better programming by better understanding the needs of each group. The new program also builds in a degree of accountability for groups that receive funds, since they will be required to report on the success of their project after its completion.

The need for a formal request process was on display during last week’s council meeting, when the council addressed two separate requests – one from Watertown-Mayer Community Education, and one from the Watertown Area Historical Society.

Community Education requested $1,500 to aid with its summer programming, but the city had included only $500 in its 2012 budget for Community Education. The issue was easily solved when the Historical Society’s request for its upcoming Rails to Trails exhibit came in $1,000 under what was budgeted for the organization. However, such an easy solution is not always available.

Interested non-profit groups should have a history of serving the Watertown community. Submittals should include a description of the proposed event, estimated costs, and a proposed city contribution.

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