August 13, 2017; Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO)
Many nonprofits are used to patching budgets together out of this and that, and when one of those elements is suddenly withdrawn, it can become very difficult to fit all the puzzle pieces back together. All is good when everyone is on the same dedicated page of getting something important done, but what happens when circumstances and relationships change?
The Gray Gourmet program now run by St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, is having the rug pulled out from under them financially. The commissioners of Mesa County have announced they want market rent for the county-owned building where the program has been housed for 34 of its 47 years in operation. Currently, Gray Gourmet pays a token sum for rent each month, between $20 and $100. Market rate rent would run between $40,000 and $50,000.
The Chipeta Avenue building was built for its purpose with grants from the Area Agency on Aging and contributions from local citizens and businesses. Though the county was the program’s sponsor when the structure was constructed, it bowed out of that role in 1989 while retaining title to the building.
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With an $870,000 annual budget, Gray Gourmet provides 120,000 meals a year to local seniors, but its last lease at the discounted rate expired in June.
St. Mary’s Hospital President Brian Davidson, noted that the hospital has invested heavily in the program and said, “It’s about demanding money from those who are trying to help fill basic safety net gaps.
But Commissioner Scott McInnis said that a county “in fiscal crisis” simply can’t afford to lease space at less than market rates, particularly when the beneficiary of that has “access to federal money” and a financially healthy sponsor in St Mary’s.
Any number of nonprofits are housed in buildings owned by local governments, and every now and then, stories like this remind us how frail such relationships can be. Organizations ought to be ready with a Plan B—or perhaps, in this case, with an excellent litigation strategy.—Ruth McCambridge