Columbia County commissioners provide several nonprofit groups with tax dollars each year.
Last fiscal year, the commission budgeted more than $116,000 to charitable organizations in the general fund, and this fiscal year it has budgeted $105,000. However, just a fraction of that money is given to Columbia County-based charities.
Just $6,650, less than 6 percent of the money given to nonprofits from the general fund, went to those inside county lines.
Child Enrichment Inc. and Columbia County Community Connections each received $2,000. Columbia County Cares Inc. got $400; $1,250 was given to the CSRA Wine Festival Inc. for a Martinez-based event; and $1,000 was provided to the Evans Lions Club.
Donations of $25,000 each went to the Richmond County Medical Society Project Access Inc., the National Science Center's Fort Discovery, the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon Inc. and the Salvation Army of Augusta.
The rest of last year's general fund charity money was given to the Alzheimer's Association of Augusta, Golden Harvest Food Bank, the Southeastern Paralyzed Veterans Association Inc., the American Red Cross, Safe Homes of Augusta, and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Augusta.
Included in the current budget are more $25,000 allocations each for Fort Discovery, the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon and Project Access. Another $30,000 is earmarked for other service groups, but not yet designated by commissioners, said County Clerk Erin Hall.
Each group receiving county funds must provide "value to the county," commission Chairman Ron Cross said. "The CSRA Alliance is a good one, even though the benefits might not be immediately apparent," Cross said. "We feel like Fort Gordon and the fight to keep it, and grow the mission, is important to the county as evidenced by all the people that live in the Grovetown area and other parts of the county."
The larger payouts are decided by the commission as a whole, said Cross. Smaller donations are allotted by each commissioner from a personal fund.
"Each commissioner has $6,000 discretionary money budgeted every year," Cross said. "The criteria (to award those funds to nonprofit groups) is that they have to provide a service to county citizens."
The American Red Cross is a popular group among commissioners for funding. Cross said he also donates to the Alzheimer's Association and the Evans Lions Club.
Cross gave $1,000 to the Lions Club so it can furnish firefighters and police with stuffed lions to give to children who are involved in traumatic events. A $3,750 payment was given to the Red Cross by multiple commissioners in exchange for their providing disaster-education programs and emergency assistance to disaster victims in the county.
The separate $25,000 donation to the Red Cross was to help the group build the Kroc Community Center in the Harrisburg neighborhood of Augusta.
Considering that each group receiving money must offer something in return, county officials prefer not to call those payments donations.
"We don't give donations using taxpayer money," said county Finance Director Leanne Reece. "We don't feel like that's the county's place to do that.
"But we do help those organizations that provide services to our community."
Instead of just giving away the money, charity organizations receiving taxpayer cash must enter into service agreements that specify what services they will provide to the county in exchange for the payments.
For example, the Project Access donation was for volunteer doctors to provide clinical services for uninsured county residents. Some of the money received by Golden Harvest was used to distribute bags of groceries to the elderly at the county Senior Center.
"They are payments for services," Reece said of the money spent on nonprofits. "Like the American Red Cross, we enter into a contract with them, and they provide services to the community."
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