By JAN WILLMS
The city’s 17 district councils have found it challenging over the years to rely on consistent city support. St. Paul started its district council program in 1975 as an innovative means of citizen participation. A 2018 report that looked at the district council system and compared it to citizen participation programs in other cities found the councils struggled with issues such as equitable outreach funding and staff turnover. Most district council staff lack employee benefits. With this uncertainty of city funding, Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) has tried to prepare for any contingencies.
At its annual meeting in December 2018, HMC reported net assets of $260,000. “Before my arrival at HMC as executive director, Michael Jon Olson served as executive director for 14 years,” said Kate Mudge. “During his tenure, HMC and 16 other district councils in St. Paul were continuously unsure whether the City would continue to fund the District Council system. So each year the financially prudent decision was made to secure foundation/grant support, and HMC raised funds so that we would have alternative funds of roughly two years’ worth in case the City decided to discontinue its funding or disband the District Council system.”
“As all healthy nonprofits operate, reserves were built to provide funding in times of uncertainty,” she continued.
Based on the most recent Guidestar Profile, reportable assets for St. Paul’s district councils range from $24,159 up to $419, 246. They vary greatly because district council assets may include building, property, office equipment, or funds set aside for specific purposes, such as loan funds which are distributed and then paid back over time.
Mudge added that district council staff do not receive health benefits, so there were additional reserves to potentially pay out of pocket to support the health and welfare of staff. “Our reserves also include monies HMC holds for ‘fiscal agencies’ such as community gardens, the Public Art group and various other organizations, which are not to be used for any purpose other than that of the fiscal agency’s discretion,” she said.
Mudge said that HMC would be discussing what to do with its reserves at two strategic planning meetings, as well as board meetings, which are open to the public.
For the first time in decades, the 17 district councils will be splitting an additional $250,000 in 2019 after years of static fund levels. It has been reported that the City Council members agree that district councils are overdue for additional support, discussing the needs last year before and during the 2019 city budget process.
How much each district council will receive from the $250,000 has not been finalized. The money will be allocated based on a formula developed more than ten years ago. The formula uses metrics of the planning district’s population, poverty levels, employment and number of non-English speakers in each district.
District councils seek community input on local and citywide plans, zoning and variances requests and business license. Each prepares a district plan every decade to guide neighborhood growth and development. Council staff and volunteers field citizen questions and are involved in neighborhood-level crime prevention activities. Many have their own unique programs.
“As an organization, we’re in transition between executive directors,” Mudge said, regarding HMC. “Our focus areas may be changing, and we are working to identify the numerous opportunities available to advance projects in the Midway.”
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