Kissimmee commission grapples again with donating to nonprofits

Another well-intended nonprofit went before the Kissimmee city commissioners last week to promote a feel-good cause – and ask for money to fund it.

It’s become a common occurrence at City Hall during commission meetings that take place twice a month. Leaders of charities and social programs will go before the five-member board to request donations, usually for specific events just a couple weeks away.

This time the request came from Christmas for the Kids Osceola, a community partnership established 10 years ago to help raise money and collect toys for the most economically disadvantaged youth in Osceola County.

After Christmas for the Kids Board Member Ben Robles gave a presentation about the group on Nov. 6, he asked the commission to open their hearts - and the city’s pocketbook – for the cause.

But there was some hesitation. On Aug. 21, the city allocated over $385,000 of government money to local charities.

They do this each year, but recently different groups – from Relay for Life to the Early Childhood Learning Coalition – have come to ask for funds outside the competitive Social Services Request grant process.

When the board approves last-minute requests, the donation typically comes from the contingency fund – money set aside for emergencies or unexpected expenses.

A few months ago, Kissimmee commissioners discussed at length about limiting donations made to groups who don’t get approved through the annual grant process over the summer.

It’s not that commissioners are against funding non-profit causes altogether - Mayor Jose Alvarez even said he’s personally volunteered for Christmas for the Kids in the past and thinks it’s a worthy organization.

But the question was raised once again – where does local government draw the line when awarding money to charities?

 “If we came to an agreement with all the other non-profits that they should go through a process, when would we start this process?” asked Commission Olga Gonzalez after Robles’ presentation.  

City Manager Mike Steigerwald confirmed that the city decided it would be best for groups to go through the standard grant application so each cause could be thoroughly vetted instead of making on-the-spot decisions at commission meetings.

Christmas for the Kids did not put an application in this summer, one city official noted at the meeting, though the group did submit an application that was later denied the year before.

The board ultimately approved $2,000 from its contingency fund for Christmas for the Kids Osceola.

Alvarez said the board would discuss the nonprofit grant process more extensively at an upcoming retreat in January.