Sunnyside's Promise asks for $217,000 commitment from city

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Sunnyside's Promise board member Nate Bridges explains the organization's new plan to the city's finance and administrative services subcommittee last night.

Sunnyside's Promise board member Nate Bridges and Executive Director Mark Baysinger went before the city's subcommittee on finance and administrative services yesterday evening to ask the city for $217,000 so the organization can keep providing services to the city.

The request is in light of the funding problems Sunnyside's Promise has had due to the lack of expected funding from Sunnyside Community Hospital and the Sunnyside School District.

Bridges told the committee that the board of Sunnyside's Promise had met a week ago and Bridges had asked for the resignation of every member. His plan is to form a new board made up of business people.

"We've all been looking at this wrong from the start," said Bridges. He said the blank slate given to Sunnyside's Promise to eliminate gang activity was always limited by restrictions on funding and mixed expectations. The result was a lack of money for administrative costs.

"It's easy to get stuff," he said, listing donations given to Sunnyside's Promise by individuals and organizations, all earmarked for particular programs. "It's that year in, year out administrative costs where we have trouble. Some grants allow 4 percent to go to administration. Others don't allow any."

Bridges also said that some of the problems with Sunnyside's Promise resulted from not having an accountant on staff. He proposed hiring one to work as an operations manager, allowing Baysinger to concentrate on securing grants.

"He's gotten $900,000 in grants in the last three years," said Bridges. "Mark can pay for himself."

Bridges added up expenses to run the organization, including salaries for Baysinger, the new operations manager and the two existing employees at the community center, along with a new receptionist and the overhead costs for Sunnyside Promise's office. Those expenses total $217,000, the amount needed to guarantee that the organization would be able to operate for a year, according to Bridges.

He then said the city would get that back, explaining the city would save on the costs of running the community center, which he estimated at $77,000 if Promise runs it.

"You won't be able to run it that cheaply," he told the city leaders last night.

In addition, Bridges said the community center would generate revenue via program fees and rental fees, which would also offset the costs.

Bridges also said any administrative costs that were allowed in grants would go back to the city, reducing the city's financial commitment even further.

Bridges also spoke about a new initiative between the city, school district and hospital currently being developed that will give Sunnyside's Promise opportunities to provide services, the role the group prefers to have.

Baysinger said he doesn't "...want this to be what it's been. I want a partnership with clear expectations of what our roles are."

If the proposed initiative between the city, the hospital and the school district is adopted, and Sunnyside's Promise is chosen to provide services and programs to local residents, Bridges said money generated from those programs would also return to the city.

He also pointed out that the school district is sitting on $100,000 of levy money that was originally earmarked for Sunnyside's Promise and said it would go a long way toward keeping the organization operational.

Bridges said a new Sunnyside's Promise board would work on making Sunnyside's Promise self-sufficient in the future. One way would be to ask businesses or individuals to join as members of the organization, with a donation. He said he's already gotten commitments of more than $32,000 if the organization could just remain viable.

"If Promise goes away, so will the grants," Bridges said. "We'll have to give back the lawnmower and the check for the soccer field."

The problem, said Bridges, is that Sunnyside's Promise never knows from year to year if it's going to exist. It is difficult to apply for grants when a requirement is that the organization be there to administer the grant the next year, he explained.

The contribution from the city would be the guarantee that Sunnyside's Promise would exist the next year. It would mean the organization could plan for the future instead of scrambling for funds in the present.

"I want Sunnyside to be a place you want to move to with your kids," said Bridges. "Here's a chance for Sunnyside to turn around and say we're getting rid of gangs, we're doing something about it."

After the presentation, members of the committee and Interim City Manager Frank Sweet discussed the proposal.

"There is no way we can pick up $217,000," said Councilwoman Theresa Hancock. She reiterated her support for Sunnyside's Promise, but acknowledged that the city cannot afford the expense.

Sweet noted that the city would have to commit for multiple years. He said it would be difficult to fit that type of financial commitment into the city's budget.

Councilman Jim Restucci asked Sweet to run the numbers on the community center to see how much the city would save if Sunnyside's Promise continued to provide services there.

Bridges' proposal will be presented before the city council at a future meeting.

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