During their first full fiscal year of operation, the District of Columbia's 35 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions saved nearly half their funds and kept large amounts of the earning no interest.
Congress set aside $750,000 in operating funds for the ANCs for fiscal 1977. Of that, the ANCs spent $397,900. In addition, the ANCs had $112,000 left from a federal grant of $141,600 for their first three months of operation, leaving more than $464,000 upset.
A search of ANC records for fiscal 1977, kept by the D.C. auditor and the budget office, and interviews with a third of the ANC representatives revealed many differences in styles and use of money among the neighborhood commissions. The records also showed that:
More than $284,000 was left in checking accounts that paid no interest. One ANC had more than $42,000 in a checking account at the end of the year.
More money was spent by the ANCs on staff salaries than on any other item, although 12 of the commissions spent no money on staff salaries. The total spent for salaries was $94,700.
Twelve ANCs spent no money on office rent, but one spent $10,000.
The ANCs had %32,500 in miscellaneous expenses, including direct grants for community projects, which ranged from supporting a "tot lot" to helping publicize to telephone crisis intervention program to planting trees.
One ANC spent only 3 percent of its allocation.
The neighborhood commissions, which were chartered by Congress in the Home Rule Charter and established by the City Council in October 1975, advise the District government on social service programs and provide some direct services to the residents of their community. The ANCs were intended as an experiment in grass roots democracy by getting citizen input on decisions made by city government.
The 36 ANCs - an additional one was chartered after fiscal 1977 - are made up of 365 single-member districts with each district having 2,000 residents. Budgets for the ANCs are based on the number of persons who live in each ward.
In August 1977, Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.), chairman of the House District Appropriations Subcommittee, critized the ANCs for, among other things, spending too much on staff slaries, and keeping money in savings accounts, and the committee voted to cut off all funds for the ANCs. A compromise was worked out between the House and Senate District appropriations subcommittees and the ANCs were allocated $500,000 for the current fiscal year.
"After Congress threatened to cut off our money last summer, we thought we would protect what we had left," said George Bond, who was chairman last year of ANC 5B."We just didn't rush to spend money. We figured we could exist a year on what we had left."
ANC 5B, in Near Northeast, had $42,937 left in a checking accoun at the end of the fiscal year, according to the records. There was no money in a saving account. Bond said the ANC was going to put the unspent money into interest-bearing savings accounts "until Congress critized us for doing that."
Another reason the ANCs did not spend more of their moeny was that they didn't want to commit funds that their successor might need, according to Carol Gidley, chairman of ANC 3E America University Park.
"We set aside half of our funds. We didn't believe that we should earmark or spend all the money before the new commissioners came in in January. We thought the new commissioners should be able to determine how the money was spent.
"We were trying to keep the spending as tight as possible so that if Congress cuts us again, we could hang on and still provide some basic services to the community."
According to the neighborhood commissioners, the money that was spent was used to staff offices to handle inquiries from constituents about city government, publish newsletters, holding meetings, beautify neighborhoods, and provide direct grants to small neighborhood projects. None of the commsiioner is paid.
Many of the ANC commissioners said they were unable to start programs until late in the fiscal year because they had difficulty finding office space either for free or to rent in their communities.
ANC 7B, in the Naylor-Dupont area, did not have an office, telephone or a staff "until the year was half over," according to Commission Chairman Maryland Kemp.
"Our ANC did not want to spent on adminstration. We wanted to spend on community services. I did a lot of the administrative work myself and hired part-time help on contract to do the typing and filing," said Barbara Fant, chairman of ANC 3D, which is in Wesley Heights. ANCs 3D also paid no money for rent and worked out of Fant's home.
ANC 6B on Capitol Hill spent $11,557 - more than any other ANC - on staff salaries for the year. That covered the salaries of three part-time staff members - an office manager, messenger and a housing expert, according to Raymond Gooch, who was chairman of 6B last year.
"We needed to have an office manager to run the office and kept it open staggered hours," he said. "Our office was open some days and some evenings, as well as Saturdays to serve the people who could not get here during weekdays."
ANC 2D made its single largest expenditure for an executive director who worked 20 hours a week. He was paid $8,000 a year.
"We couldn't operate without a staff director," said Richard Westbrook, who was chairman of 2D in Southwest.
"The executive director investigated problems and developed certain pieces of legislation for the ANC. He set up and organized the community meetings," Westbrook said. "He gave a lot of assistance to our housing problems in our community. He gave us an ear in the community."
Of the 12 ANCS that spent no money on office rent three were in Ward 5. Two of those ANCs used free space in neighborhood public schools, and a third used the chairman's home as an office.
Other ANCs spent as little as $60 a year for rent, while ACS 2C spent $10,000, more than any other ANC.
According to Charles Richardson, who was chairman of ANC 2C in the Shaw area, the commission could have gotten free space but decided to share an office with an existing community organization - the Joint Center for Community Development.
"The city offered us (free space for) four desks and four chairs and we needed more than that," he said. "We decided to try a cooperative thing with the Joint Center. We felt that way we could work together and eliminate some of the problems other ANCs were having with existing community groups who felt the ANCs were trying to take over their tyrf."
Richardson said the $10,000 also paid for equipment, supplies and copying equipment in addition to the rent.
ANC 2C also spent $17,293 - more than any other ANC - on contractual services. Richardson said that instead of having people on staff, his ANC hired as consultants typist and others who would print and distribute flyers and newsletters for the commission.
"By hiring consultants, we thought we could get some of the things done and eliminate the bookkeeping it required to have prople on staff," Richardson said.
The second highest expenditure of ANC funds was spent on the rental or purchase of office equipment - $68,400.
According to the records, much of the money was used to buy or rent typewriters, office equipment and machines that would print and address flyers, news letters, letters and other material to constituents.
According to D.C. Auditor Matthew Watson, some of the equipment could have been obtained free or at reduced prices through the city Government Services Administration (GSA). Few ANCs actually used the service, according to the commissioner interviewed.
Margaret Johnson, chairman of ANC 1D, said she made an effort to purchase office equipment through the GSA, but added that "someone else made us a good offer on a used electric typewriter file cabinets and a desk, and we picked up a couple of other desks at Goodwill. It was easier than going way out to the warehouse where the GSA kept equipment."
Johnson, who is chairman of the smallest ANC - there are only two members - which also recieved the least money, said she was able to furnish the office for $235.
Auditor Watson, who said he spends about 10 percent of his staff time working with the ANCs accounts, said the ANC commissioners were confused about how to budget and spend their money.
"They recieved no guidance from the District government as to how to budget," he said," he said, "and no assistance in helping them to organize.
"The status which establish the ANCs explained what they can do in a limited sense, and the budget office has specified some other things.
"But we get aksed if they can spend on certain things and we sometimes go further than we shoudl in trying to help them. It's a conflict of interest for is to tell them how to spend on the one hand and audit them on the other."
Watson has asked the mayor and the City Council to establish and outreach program to help the ANCs plan and budget.
In an effort to encourage the ANCs to spend rather than save their allocated funds, the city budget officer, Comer Coppie, has issued new guidelines to the ANCs.
In the future, "in order to achieve the most effective and economical use of the funds available and to ensure the integrity of all ANC financial account, the quarterly allocation for any ANC will be held in reserve" if the ANC has a cash balance that is more than their 1978 allocation, according to the new guildelines.
In addition, no ANC will recieve a new quarterly allocation until its financial report is filed with the coty auditor.
There have been accounting problems with the ANCs since they recieved their first quarterly allocation that covered the transition period between July and September 1976. According to Watson, the financial reports are often filed late and sometimes are inaccurate and incomplete.
In the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 1977, and ending Sept. 30, 1977, the ANCs spent the majority of their money on these items: salaries and wages for staff, $94,700; office equipment, $68,400; office rent, $51,500, and contractual services, $47,200.
Other expenditures included: printing and duplicating, $32,400; office supplies and expenses, $32,000; telephone service, $13,500; Postage and delivery, $13,500; utilities $4,800; Social Security tax for staff, $3,9000; local transportation, $1,300; unemployment insurance, $1,100, and out-of-city travel, $1,100.