First it was the grand vote-buying scheme of government-sponsored pizza parties, courtesy of councilor Kristen Szakos. Now, Charlottesville’s City Council Democrats are using publicly underwritten ice cream socials to curry favor with city voters, via the Neighborhood Grant Matching Program.
Almost worse than the concept of vote-purchasing with “free” government food, is that the monies expended for this boondoggle are siphoned from the city’s Capital Improvements Program, which is described as follows:
The Capital Improvement Program Fund (CIP) provides funding for streets, public buildings, land and other capital assets, which generally have a useful life of 5 years or more and cost more than $50,000. City Council, in their Adopted Budget Guidelines, has set a policy to allocate an amount no less than 3% of the General Fund budget for capital improvements.
The bizarre proposal for misappropriation of public “capital” tax dollars to sponsor neighborhood “celebrations” was brought forward last fall by Neighborhood Development Services Director, Jim Tolbert. In a pitch to City Council, Tolbert described his vision for the program:
Also, included would be funding for neighborhood based events and celebrations and for capacity building initiatives to help increase participation in neighborhoods or to get information out to help citizens become more involved in our government. We would anticipate that most grant requests would be between $250 and $5,000. [emphasis added]
Sensing opportunity to buy—with taxpayer dollars—additional votes for Democrats in upcoming elections as well as to increase general affection towards government, Tolbert’s scheme unanimously was approved by council through the body’s consent agenda.
The bureaucracy involved in gaining grant approval is mindboggling, requiring a convoluted seven-page process explanation and untold staff hours in submission review, evaluation, and scoring.
In keeping with the city’s Marxist sustainability agenda, brownie points are awarded to applications that promote delineated “Sustainability Values”:
- Project contributes to environmental health or our ability to effectively address climate change.
- Project will have a positive effect on the local economy and minimizes costs to the community, now and over the long term.
- Project supports responsible stewardship of public resources.
- Project contributes to social equity by meeting basic needs, benefiting vulnerable populations, promoting community safety and cultural awareness, or building community relationships and neighborhood cohesion.
Flummery aside, in spite of the stringent application process, profligacy is rampant in the solicitation and awarding of Neighborhood Grant funds. An evaluation of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association’s (GNA) application to fund an October 9 Neighborhood Social, shows five tubs of ice cream (12.5 gallons) to be purchased at a cost of $300.00, or $24.00 per gallon. Several local grocery stores offer ice cream at less than $5.00 per gallon, a savings of nearly 80% over the city-paid price. And in the spirit of benevolence, Charlottesville City Government agreed to pick up the cost of a “bounce house” in order to enliven the soiree, even though the neighborhood’s application listed that expense as being covered by their association as a grant “match.” All told, this neighborhood’s “free” ice cream social set back Charlottesville taxpayers a cold $716—that’s $237 more than was requested by GNA. Predictably, the grant was approved (and possibly aggrandized) by Tolbert’s Neighborhood Development Services Department.
All of this is taking place concurrent with a Charlottesville School Board discussion on permanently banning ice cream from division grounds in order to combat a childhood “obesity epidemic.” So, while on the one hand, the State (city government) plies youth (and adults) with free ice cream at a neighborhood soiree (ironically held at Greenbrier Elementary), on the other hand, the State (city schools)—under funding governance and supposed oversight of Charlottesville City Hall— is classifying the frozen concoction as a dangerous substance not to be served on school property.
In a city with widespread crumbling infrastructure and millions in unmet capital needs—both exacerbated by years of executive mismanagement—it makes little sense to hand out capital improvement funds as if they were…ice cream. That is, of course, unless the city is Charlottesville, the mayor is Norrishood, and the governing body is totally devoid of common sense.