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SAN LUIS, Ariz. – Financial contributions that City Hall pays to social service and other nonprofit organizations that serve San Luis will come under review by the new mayor.
Over the last two fiscal years, the city has approved more than $1 million in contracted services and in sponsorships to the organizations that stage events in the community and otherwise serve San Luis.
Mayor Nieves Riedel, who assumed office in December, says she has started a review of those allocations to make sure the city is getting the agreed-upon services and that the money is otherwise used for the intended purposes.
She said money will only be given to the organizations that submit reports on their uses of the funds, and depending on whether the city’s budget allows for the financial distributions.
“When they bring me (requests for) donations for approval, and I ask questions, I realized that there’s a list of the same people receiving (the money) and that they receive it systematically,” she said.
“I’m a person of numbers,” said Riedel, who heads a housing development company in San Luis. “And the numbers don’t lie. The residents of San Luis, Arizona, have the right to know how we are spending their money, because it’s not our money, nor is it the city employees. It’s the public’s money.”
First to come under review were the organizers of the Off Road Expo in San Luis, an event that brings together off-road vehicle vendors and enthusiasts of the pastime to the city’s Joe Orduno Park. The city committed $25,000 for contractual services and $10,500 in sponsorships.
“I asked them what benefits they bring to the city with what they do,” Riedel said. “They use the only (city) park that we have and on average there are two or three weeks that it can’t be used by the community” because of the expo. “That is unacceptable. It’s a well-attended event – I’m not saying that – but it isn’t a city event, and besides providing money, the city contributes labor” to stage the event.
She vowed that the city will not allow the previously approved allocations to be paid out to the Off Road Expo organizers until they have provided a detailed report about their activities.
The organizers, who use the Comite de Bien Estar housing organization as their fiscal agent for the expo, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Riedel said the Off Road Expo is not all that’s coming under review. She plans to look into city funding for the Gethsemani Church’s food ministry for the needy, to which the city has earmarked $19,500, and to the Arizona Interagency Farmworkers Coalition, which is allocated $14,000 for the current fiscal year.
San Luis City Councilwoman Gloria Torres said the city should not hold up money it’s already agreed to give, but instead more closely scrutinize funding requests made by the organizations in future years.
“To me it doesn’t seem appropriate to do this,” Torres said. “I don’t agree with how this is being done. Those funds are already approved. I’m not against reviewing (future funding requests), but those organizations need those resources.”
San Luis Vice Mayor Luis Cabrera said the financial reviews are not meant to harm any groups or exclude them from funding from the city in the future.
“I don’t believe there is anything bad behind what the mayor is doing,” he said. “We owe the community transparency and assurance that the funds of the city are used in a more appropriate way.”
Nonetheless, he said the mayor needs to keep the council informed about the reviews she is doing.
Riedel said financial contributions made in past years to outside organizations has left the city with less than it needed for its own programs for the public and left it with less than needed to pay employees competitive salaries. She said she will propose that the council reduce its contributions to some non-profits in the next fiscal year.
On the other hand, she said the city needs to maintain its funding levels to organizations that provide services the city doesn’t provide and can’t do without, such as the Humane Society of Yuma, the YCAT public transportation service and Amberly’s Place, which serves victims of domestic violence.
Up to now, she said, the events approved for city sponsorships are the ComiCon festival, the Arte en la Calle art festival and the Cesar Chavez celebration.