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ANCs Handle Thousands of Dollars of Taxpayer Money

James Wright | 11/19/2012, 11:56 p.m.

While the budgeting and spending actions of the D.C. Council receive a great deal of media attention, little is known about the fiscal activities of the political bodies that are closer to the residents of the District but in many ways equally as important.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are the elected, unpaid body of government officials who consider a number of policies and programs that affect neighborhoods in such areas as economic development and public safety. These commissions dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars - in the form of grants - each year to nonprofits and community organizations in their commission areas.

"We cannot give money to 'fly by night' operations or just anybody," said Robert King, a Ward 5 resident who is the longest-serving commissioner and elected official in the District.

"Carnivals, parades and street festivals cannot be supported. We are supposed to give money to improve the neighborhood and the quality of life for our residents."

King, 64, said that "the grants must have a public good."

Commissions receive their money as an appropriation from the D.C. Council. Each commission receives about the same amount of money and it's based on a formula that comes out to around $1.40 per resident, said Simon Gottlieb, the executive director of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners.

There is a widespread misconception that there's more money available to commissions in wealthier parts of the city as opposed to commissions located in low-income areas. Not true, Gottlieb said.

"Ward 3 has no more money than Ward 8 [in regards to the allocation]," he said. "The money is distributed on a per capita basis. One-eighth of the city's population gets one-eighth of the money."

King said that the present system of funding is better than the previous one.

"ANCs used to get city funds based on the value of the property - where it was located," he said. "In 1983, that changed with the passage of the ANC Threshold Act which based money on a set formula based on population."

The complaint, King said, about the old system was commissions in wealthier areas of the city received more money than in poorer areas, especially in Wards 7 and 8, because their property was assessed at a higher level.

Vicki Wright-Smith, a commissioner for 1A02, said that when she was elected to her post in 2010, she attended an orientation session on what her duties entailed and that included a section on finances.

"We were told that we had a budget and that we give out grants and what was permissible to give out as far as money is concerned," Wright-Smith, 46, said.

Wright-Smith, who lives in Columbia Heights in Northwest, said that in her commission 1A, grants are given to organizations within the boundaries of the commission. She said the number of grants per commissioner varies.

"I have only given out one or two a year from my single-member district," she said. "Some of my colleagues have given away as [many] as six or seven in their districts alone."