Merced County Supervisor for District 2 Lee Lor has been soliciting ideas and input from the public through her Facebook page on how to allocate her district’s discretionary funds.
The post, published last week, depicts a pot of gold and noted the controversial funds often are referred to as “slush funds.”
Over the week, residents pitched their ideas to Lor: Help struggling nonprofits that support the arts; extend bike paths so UC Merced students have a safer route to school; cover business’ trash bins to help beautify downtown.
Each supervisor receives $40,000 of public money each fiscal year to spend on community projects or programs or to help nonprofits. The outgoing board recently adopted new policies, which include putting the money back into the general fund if it’s not used. The board must approve spending of discretionary funding, but individual supervisors nominate a project to receive funding.
Lor, who was elected to office late last year, turned to Facebook as she’s mulling ideas on how to approach the discretionary funds. Ideally, she wants her constituents’ help in making the decisions on what to fund.
“I do not want the decision to rely solely on me,” Lor said in a telephone interview. “Here’s the community’s opportunity to stand behind what they say. Here’s your open process.”
Her idea is to set a time line for the application process and have a deadline. Applicants would present their proposals to a volunteer constituent oversight committee during a town-hall style meeting.
Think “Shark Tank” style, she said, referencing the popular ABC reality-television series that allows aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to celebrity executives and financiers in the hope of receiving start-up funding and investments.
Similar to the show, Merced County residents would get the chance to vote on which proposal they support to receive the funding.
Lor also wants to commit two years of funding to projects for more sustainability.
On the campaign trail last year, Lor said she listened to a lot of opinions about the discretionary funds. She heard them called a slush fund or political tool, while nonprofits expressed they heavily relied on the funds. Others said they’d be more supportive if the process was more transparent.
“From the looks of it, the discretionary funds are not going away,” she said. “I think this is a good compromise.”
She acknowledges it will take considerable “manpower and resources” to make it happen.
“It’s an effort I’m going to champion,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, that’s OK.”