The Canal Winchester Times

City wants more transparency about use of bed tax grants

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Canal Winchester officials are once again looking at how they can improve the city's bed tax grants, making them more effective and more transparent.

At Canal Winchester City Council's Sept. 30 Committee of the Whole meeting, members discussed concerns about the timing of the grant application process and how many grants were being completed as pass-through funding for other programs, which ultimately cut the city out of the decision process and left it with little credit for the donation.

"I wanted to touch on where we've gone with the bed tax grant program in the past and how we want to run it in the future," Finance Director Amanda Jackson said. "When we've gotten applications in the past, we've had concerns about what organizations are applying for and then what they're actually spending the money on."

Jackson said two programs in particular have a high frequency of bed tax grant funds being passed on to them from other applying organizations: the Football for Food program and the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

"I got a report back from the scholarship fund and there's no way that we can tell who specifically got money from the grant or that the recipients know who they received money from," Jackson said.

She said she sent letters asking for financial reports from all organizations that received bed tax grants to show how, or if, the grant money was used, but has only received a few responses.

According to Councilman Rick Deeds, prior to this program, the city had partnered with two other organizations directly to cover the school district's Football for Food varsity football game gate fee, which is how the district was able to offer entry to the game in exchange for a donation to the community food bank.

Now however, Deeds said, he isn't certain how those funds are making it to the school, or if the city is being given any credit for the donation.

"We should be giving that money directly to the school so people know where it came from and where it's going," Deeds said. The other council members agreed.

The Alumni Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to Canal Winchester students headed to college after graduation, currently isn't transparent regarding the funds coming from the city, according to Jackson, which caused council members to consider directly providing scholarships.

"If there is transparency and we get credit for helping these kids out, then we should leave it with the alumni organization," Deeds said. "Otherwise, we should consider bringing it in house."

Jackson explained that bringing it in house and having council directly award scholarships would allow council to set the criteria for how a student is given a scholarship.

Council President Steve Donahue said, however, that setting those guidelines and making a selection might be more than council wants to take on.

"I've been on a lot of these scholarship committees over the years and it is a lot of detailed work, so keep that in mind," Donahue said.

Council asked Jackson to compile a report about how the money was used by the organizations that received the bed tax grants to help with next year's awards, and to avoid pass-through funding.

Jackson also agreed to work to publicize the grant application process before the end of this year as a way of trying to increase the number of applications submitted.

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