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BGC - to fund or not to fund?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

When a Bandera County Commissioner walked into a regular meeting to a courtroom packed with people, he asked another, "What's on the agenda that brought out this many people?"
The agenda item that contributed to the crowded courtroom was: "Public hearing on the 2015-2016 proposed budget." Concerned citizens crowded the room to speak in favor of restoring funds that were eliminated earlier from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bandera County (BGC).
During last summer's budget workshops, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris made a motion to give the clubs a block grant of $5,000 - down from last year's $10,000. After being seconded by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jordan "Jody" Rutherford, his motion was defeated by a 2-3 vote with Judge Richard Evans, Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson casting nay votes.
To paraphrase Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the chickens came home to roost in Bandera on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Citizens' support
Real estate agent Jerrett Lamb told the court that the value added by the BGC "impacts the entire county." Noting that the BGC line item had been completely defunded, he pleaded with commissioners to refund the $10,000 or more or "the kids will find themselves in a precarious situation."
Pastor Larry McRorey of Bandera United Methodist Church described BGC as "an invaluable asset that provides a safe, positive and affirmative place for kids to go after school and in the summer." He continued, "Few local organizations reach out to this specific population. Please give serious consideration to what the full cost of defunding will have on the community and this vulnerable population."
Sheila Knowles, BGC development director, said that in September the three county clubs served over 200 children daily. She noted that the heaviest users are children ages 10 years and under. Additionally, each day, between 20 to 40 teens in grades six through 12 attend the teen center, located on Maple Street, by City Park.
In contrast, according to statistics provided by The American Academy of Pediatrics, law enforcement costs associated with an act of robbery by a rural youth was $9,278 and $10,875 for assault. "The most shocking thing about this report I saved for last," Knowles said. "The report is from 1993 which is 22 years ago. Obviously, the figures would be much higher today."
She continued, "Our clubs are not fancy. We do not waste money on frivolous things. Our dues are low and we offer scholarships because we want kids to come to us. If we raise dues too much, we would turn into a licensed daycare center and lose our nonprofit status."
respect & discipline
Representatives from both the Lakehills United Methodist Church and Grace Lutheran Church also spoke in favor of restoring funding the BGC.
The clubs, one said, teach self-reliance, respect and discipline. "Crime goes down when a safe harbor is provided and the staff is skilled at recognizing at-risk youth. It's either the Boys & Girls Club or juvenile court."
"Cutting funding for the BGC is reprehensible and incomprehensible in a forward-thinking community. We must do all in our power to protect children in our charge," said another speaker, who also referenced the club's award-winning Odyssey of the Mind challenge.
After noting, the BGC "gives kids a chance," Sully Woodland, president of the Optimists Club, asked commissioners, "How can you take funding away from the kids of this community? They are the backbone of this county. We need to help and support these children."
Never one to mince words, longtime county resident Tom Bregel commented, "Not too long ago, you gave the CVB a half a million dollars and now you don't have money to help raise kids to be good citizens? Something is wrong somewhere." While the funding comes from different sources, Bregel's comment was well taken.
"The community is behind this," said Dennis Fitzgerald, BGC board member. "This is not an expenditure in the budget, it's an investment in the future."
Vicki Browning noted that the BGC serves meals to children who might otherwise go without.
"Before making a decision," BGC Alkek Unit Director Jackie Tharp urged, "come to the club and see what we do for yourself."
After listening to the myriad supporters of the BGC, Evans said, "We get the idea."
Illegal funding
As discussions ended, Harris upped the ante of his original motion increasing BGC funding to $10K. Rutherford again seconded the motion. Wilkerson, who originally voted against funding, offered to decrease the budget of Mansfield Park and contribute $5,000 to the BCG.
However, Evans quickly threw a Baby Ruth in the budgetary punchbowl via a handoff to County Auditor Christina Moreno.
Moreno told the court that a statute in the state tax code is necessary in order for the county to grant funds to "clubs." This would include not only the BGC, but also the Sports Complex - and she could find none.
"We've funded them illegally in the past. We must have statutory authority," Moreno said. As a sap, she suggested contingency funding until the county receives a ruling on the matter from the Texas Attorney General.
An incredulous Harris said, "I have a real problem with this. We've been funding them for the nine years I've been on the court."
"There is no question about the benefit of the Boys & Girls Clubs, but we must be on solid legal ground with this," Evans said.
Grimes, who originally voted against funding the BGC, said, "No one on the court contests the value and benefits of the BGC." Referencing the total BGC budget for next fiscal year of $442,000, he asked, "If your budget is $400,000 is $10,000 from the county necessary?"
Knowles explained that the BGC charges $25 per child for a school year membership, but actual costs per child amount to $150.
It was estimated it would take six to eight weeks to receive an opinion from the AG regarding the legality of funding the BGC and sports complex.
Contract or resolution
However, an attorney, with no connections to Bandera County, later explained, "The real issue here is that Texas has a constitutional prohibition against using public funds to fund or benefit a private individual or organization." He added, "But in practice, everyone does it."
The attorney continued, "In this case, the best way to provide funding to worthy organizations is to 'paper it up' by initiating a formal contract or resolution with the entity requesting the funding. This is something that's done all the time."
Regarding the county's request for an AG opinion, he said, "The AG has ruled on this numerous times. He will ask, 'Does the expenditure serve the public good?' Obviously it does. In that case, the AG will say it's the call of the local governing entity or elected officials, not the State of Texas." He concluded, "This is not new. Everybody does it, but some do it better than others."
Harris' motion, which was amended to allow for an AG opinion on BGC funding, passed unanimously - as did the budget and tax rate.