County government has been in overdrive, expanding for years by “partnering” with private non-profits. We’ve noticed that in the last six months they've punched the hyperdrive button, making massive “non-departmental” contract awards and disgorging long-held reserves and grant funds. What’s disconcerting is that most of this spending doesn’t show up in the county’s actual budget.
What caught our eye is “agenda bill” AB2012-112, slated for approval March 13. What a gauzy, typical Whatcom County case of opportunism.
As WE predicted, the Community Energy Challenge “energy efficiency loan” experiment was a dismal failure. It left hundreds of thousands of dollars of unspent grant money in the county coffers. This award will spend-out nearly $200,000 of grant leftovers for more of the same even though the original plan flopped. This will only extend the CEC farce. Page-down to the “statement of work” that begins at Page 12. Then look at the compensation section, Exhibit B on PDF Page 13 (you may need to open AB 2012-112 again - it's worth the trouble).
This says that the Opportunity Council will use $114,889 of this $198,095 to “provide services” and “pay CEC incentives” (giveaways) of $83,196 to who knows whom. What's striking is the scale of the service budget; comparatively speaking, the expenses for staff and overhead are 138% of the tangible work.
The Opportunity Council already gets roughly $24 million each year for programs, from 40 + different agencies. WE’ve tried to obtain Opportunity Council “recipient lists” in the past to find out what its overhead is and where the recipient award money actually goes, but no soap. For all the claims made in this paperwork that spending will be accountable, Opportunity Council doesn’t willingly open it's books or divulge details about recipients to the public. If this were real government work, we could find out what really goes on, but public disclosure laws don’t apply to private NGO’s (government "partners").
This isn't the only NGO that mopped-up on Community Energy Challenge leftovers. Sustainable Connections scored $212,994 of unspent funds too, just a couple of weeks ago. WE found that buried in a routine funding bill (see these pages of AB 2012-090), and it makes the same vague “we’ll put the money to work” promises. Maybe "750" audits were conducted - perhaps they'd provide a list of names and addresses for the public to see andverify. (Doubt that will ever happen.)
The responsible thing for the County to do would be return the money to the federal government, right? Right. If you checked-out the Community Energy Challenge page, you know this was “stimulus” money from the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Everybody knows we have a serious debt crisis, borrowing vast amounts of money from China, and local government simply doesn't care. We'll never know what good came of the $4,503,000.00 that the federal Department of Energy dumped. But at its rosiest, even if it had succeeded, it had 72% overhead built-in.
Is county government capable of self restraint? Largesse seems to be a satisfying temptation for officials who want to believe they’re doing something substantial and good for the community. They don't seem to grasp that grants feeding fiascos like this are not “free” to us, the public. County must stop blessing chronic institutional failure and waste. We simply can't afford it.
What a rum deal for the “partners” that have burgeoned into growth industries based on subsidy, no matter how little they achieve. Vague promises are made, cash is shoveled through the general fund from massive state and federal grants, and the public debt mushrooms. Despite outlandish overhead, zero transparency, and poor performance, the NGO's will file glowing reports on schedule and head straight back to the trough for more.
Cruise through agendas and "past action taken" when you can, and see how bad this has become.