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Anger Now On the Rise: RIOC Bungles Public Gift Giving


Public gift giving through Public Purpose Grants marks a rare opportunity for aiding community groups in their mission. But RIOC repeatedly bungles the process, and now the gifts have turned into sources of anger and frustration.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Lines for RIDA food pantry
Each Friday, lines are long for free food at the RIDA organized pantry in the CBN/RI Senior Center. PPF grants help both organizations survive.

PPF: Public Gift Giving

The availability of public purpose funds is another unique feature of governing on Roosevelt Island. Started with money contributed by Manhattan Park in lieu of taxes, public gift giving evolved into a feature in RIOC’s annual budget.

State law now allows the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to set aside up to 3% of its operating budgets as public purpose funds. RIOC grants funds to community groups, helping them meet their missions. Groups as diverse Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, Wildlife Freedom Foundation and the Disabled Association rely on the support.

And let’s not forget that the source of most of that cash comes from residents hit with the hidden RIOC Tax.

While it’s not easy turning public gift giving on its head, making it an albatross, RIOC adds it to its list of dubious community achievements.

What’s the beef…?

Most groups serving the community, one frustrated writer reminds us, are here, year in and year out. But this year is different, because they are still “waiting for meager Public Purpose funds due last February.”

Public gift giving is crucial for keeping art a draw for visitors and residents.

Let’s focus on the “meager” part. The state agency can hand over 3% — roughly $900,000 — in PPF grants, but they have never given more than $150,000. And they stretched that far only after years of complaints.

But even the stinginess in public gift giving gets strangled by bizarre criteria and a hopelessly convoluted process.

As we reported in April, decisions about who gets what from RIOC lacks a common sense approach and is mired in political favoritism. RIOC watchers, familiar with the state agency’s tacky values, aren’t surprised when nonprofits silence their frustrations. Retaliation awaits, but in contrast, rewards come from abject compliance.

The worst, though, increasing by leaps and bounds this year: mean-spirited bureaucratic bungling. It’s kept many, maybe a majority, of nonprofits from getting funds awarded months ago. Over six months later, the cash remains in RIOC’s bank account.

The beef in action…

One observer writes that other granting sources are “…a walk in the park in comparison.”

Most trust through an honor code, knowing grantees are always subject to audit. But “what reason does RIOC have for not trusting the community?”

Maybe it’s just a bloated bureaucracy creating self-justifying work for itself. And that’s possible because, in turn, RIOC is not held accountable by anyone south of Albany. Where bureaucracy is like a drug addiction, constantly demanding more.

The logjam seems more about paper-shuffling than public gift giving. Before paying up, RIOC requires full receipts, bank statements, check images, payroll reports, etc.

“It’s a lot of work” for nonprofits staffed mainly by volunteers and shows a profound mistrust. Which goes both ways. Most PPF grants hover in the $10 to $15K annual range, but RIOC demands $100,000 dollar responses.

Public gift giving, stingy as it is with RIOC, devolves into a chore… for everyone involved, except RIOC.

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