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Woodbury County Meeting

Woodbury County Board Chairman George Boykin, of Sioux City, speaks at a July 16 meeting. Boykin on Tuesday defended having lunch with other board members, saying the meals don't violate state open-meeting rules. 

SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County will now distribute a press release before the start of the annual budget discussions disclosing how much taxpayer money was awarded to nonprofit organizations the previous year. 

County Board Chairman George Boykin in a statement said the change “will be done prior to the formal budget process in the public interest.”

The five-member County Board for years has set aside money for nonprofit groups in the annual budget, which is funded by property taxes and fees. Eight organizations are set to split $285,524 in the fiscal year starting July 1. Officials say the funding is important to keeping the groups operating.

The same seven groups have gotten donations for the past four years. The totals were printed in the county budget. Boykin said the change will get that information to more people before the start of the next budget cycle.

James Van Bruggen, of the Taxpayers Research Council, a Sioux City watchdog group, said reminding people about last year’s total doesn’t solve the problem. He said the county doesn’t properly publicize the funds and prevents other qualified organizations from seeking the money. 

"Some needs may be unaddressed because they never have an opportunity to make their case," Van Bruggen said.

The policy change was announced in an email by Boykin sent Wednesday after the Journal asked him whether any reforms are planned in the next selection process. He said there are no plans to create a competitive bidding process or make other alterations.

County Board member Mark Monson, of Sergeant Bluff, said there’s clearly a need for a larger conversation about improving accountability.

"The process needs to be revisited, maybe updated," he said.

The nonprofit allocations make up about 0.5 percent of the county budget. The Woodbury County Prevention Commission for At-Risk Youth gets about two-thirds of the money to award and makes a recommendation to the County Board. The commission uses various benchmarks to make selections.

Since its creation, the commission has recommended its entire share be awarded to the Sanford Community Center in Sioux City and its Gang Outreach Program.

The County Board gets the remaining amount and decides using a financial statement from groups asking for the money. There are no set qualification standards.

Donations next year range from $2,000 for the Moville Senior Center to $186,925 for the Sanford, which runs after-school and summer programs for at-risk youth.

Boykin is the executive director of the Sanford center. Boykin said he doesn't see any reason to change the process by which money gets directed to the agency he leads. 

He also said the county's tight budget means there isn't any other money to give out. 

County Board member David Tripp, of Sioux City, said there has to be a better process. In general, he said, he's against giving out taxpayer money. But if the board does, he said, it should be through a transparent process. 

"How is it fair that the only ones that get it are the ones that get it now?" Tripp said. "The other nonprofits don't get a chance? That's not right."

The 2015-2016 budget process starts in January. 

County Board member Larry Clausen, of Sioux City, said he’ll be against making changes when the discussions start. He said the county performs an important service in helping charitable organizations that have seen donations and grants dwindle. He pointed to Meals on Wheels, which is getting $12,760 in July from the county.

“Without that service, what do people who can't get out of their home do?" he said.

The fifth board member, Jackie Smith, of Sioux City, did not immediately return calls for this story.

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County and education reporter

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