Fitz Grant Sanford Community Center

Fitz Grant, standing, works with students in the Gang Outreach Program at the Sanford Community Center in Sioux City in March 2014. The center this year won't receive funds from Woodbury County.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | The Woodbury County Board on Tuesday was questioned about its longtime practice of giving money to nonprofit groups and the way it decides how the groups are chosen.

Trent Wright, of Sioux City, said he supports nonprofits getting sufficient funding but contended it shouldn't come from county property tax revenue. He also said residents don't understand how some agencies are awarded a donation while others are not.

Speaking during the public comment portion of the weekly board meeting, Wright asked, "Do you put out a press release saying, 'We've got $250,000 to give out and here are our criteria?'"

Board Chairman George Boykin said information isn't shared with the public in that manner.

The county will give $285,524 to eight nonprofit organizations during the fiscal year that starts July 1. Of that, the County Board awarded $98,599 to seven nonprofit groups but does not have rules or standards for deciding which agencies get money.

Another $186,925 will go to the gang prevention program operated by the Sanford Community Center in Sioux City, as recommended by the County Prevention Commission for At-Risk Youth. Boykin is the center's executive director.

The five-member commission, appointed by the County Board, uses benchmarks and reviews financial documents in making its recommendation. Since its creation in 2011, the panel has recommended its entire share go to the Sanford.

Boykin has said, and reiterated Tuesday, that the decision-makers are not influenced by his role. In January, he left the room when the issue came up for a preliminary board vote.

Nevertheless, the Taxpayers Research Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, in recent years has questioned transparency of the selection process.

On Tuesday, Wright said he didn't like the lack of official procedures and said, "I don't believe any tax dollars should go to any nonprofits."

He asked Boykin to direct a vote to have board members say whether they support the practice. Boykin declined to take that step.

When the board approved next year's $51 million budget last month on a 4-1 vote, member David Tripp, of Sioux City, cast the no vote.

Tripp on Tuesday said the county needs to pare back payments to nonprofits, particularly since property taxes will rise in the year ahead.

Board member Larry Clausen, of Sioux City, said he used to question the donations but has changed his position. With federal and state funding sources drying up recently, Clausen said, the county should help fill the gap when possible.

After the meeting, Boykin said board members have a chance to weigh in on the merits of giving money to nonprofits during the budget-setting process each year. Without the county money, the groups' useful programs would be "drastically" hurt, he said.

Boykin also criticized "off-the-cuff criticism from the Sioux City Journal" questioning transparency in the funding decisions.

"There have been some editorials in the paper about the center getting a handout .... The center has not just been given a handout," he said.

Earlier in the meeting, three of the five Prevention Commission for At-Risk Youth members praised the Sanford's Gang Outreach Program. That program was created in 1992 under Boykin's leadership when the city's gang problem was at a high level.

Member Susan Barta, of Sioux City, said Sanford gets the  funding because the gang prevention program has helped heal families.

"It is an awesome program," she said.

Mike McTaggart, also of Sioux City, praised the program for reducing the scourge of gangs in schools over the past 20 years.

"It really turned our schools around. It made it possible to go back to what we do in schools, teach," McTaggart said. "This is a unique program. I'm not just saying that because (Boykin) is here."

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County and education reporter

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