SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County officials are taking a closer look at a longstanding practice of giving money to nonprofit groups and programs each year. 

The $54 million fiscal 2014 budget set for a vote Tuesday includes $157,136 for what county Budget Director Dennis Butler said are nonmandated programs.

The list includes the annual county fair, two senior citizen centers and a group that helps domestic abuse victims.

At a meeting in February, County Board member David Tripp asked why the county has been funding the First Tee golfing program, which teaches golf and life lessons to at-risk kids. The county isn't required by law to support the program.

Board member Mark Monson told him the county helps fund several nonprofit programs at its discretion.

The eight recipients are certainly worthy, County Board Chairman Larry Clausen said in an interview, but the reality is that they've remained on the list partly due to tradition. There are no firm criteria for awarding the money.

"Meals on Wheels has been on there for as long as I can remember. It has been a supplement for them to stay in existence," Clausen said.

Early in the budget process each year, the board looks over the list of outside entities seeking contributions. Last year, Butler and Taxpayers Research Council Executive Director James Van Bruggen said the county should be scanning the groups' financial statements to ensure they actually need the county's help.

The board did so for the first time this year.

"It has been a good step because we see what their expenditures are, where they are at and what kind of money they have to deal with. If an organization has got excess funds, they don't need to come to the county," Clausen said.

The Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence in Sioux City will receive $5,586 from the county this year, and that amount is proposed for 2013-14 too. Council executive director Margaret Sanders said the money is greatly appreciated since state and federal funding is decreasing.

Sanders said the agency has received county money all 22 years she's worked there. At one point the annual county donation was $10,000, but that's been pared down over time, she said.

"Yes, I'd like more, but I am grateful for any money the agency receives," Sanders said.

The smallest donation in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, was $2,000 to the Moville Senior Center in downtown Moville.

Clausen said the donations to the outside groups may not continue. None has received an increase in the past several years, and some have received less than they've asked for.

"When budget times were good, it wasn't a problem. But now it could be a problem in years to come," Clausen said. "The federal money, the state money, keeps drying up and the county sure cannot afford to take on nonmandated services."

Clausen said other groups considering getting in line for the county gravy train shouldn't get their hopes up.

"It is pretty tough to get on the list, now, because we are looking at paring the list, not increasing it," Clausen said. "If comes to a point of it making a difference in the budget, you know, either raising (property) taxes or having to cut a program, then those programs are gonna end up having to go."

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County and education reporter

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