AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinals“You see these very large bank balances of up to $100,000 and more and you’re asking, `What are they doing?”‘ said Councilman Greig Smith, who represents communities in parts of the West San Fernando Valley. Seventeen of the councils enrolled in the funding program – including four in the Valley – had account balances of more than $100,000 at the end of last month, according to Department of Neighborhood Empowerment records. “We look at some neighborhood councils and it’s `Wow, it’s neat what they’re doing.’ But others are doing nothing, or just spending on office administration. And I’m saying, `What are they accomplishing?’ They have a tremendous opportunity to have an impact and yet (some) are squandering it or not using it at all,” Smith said. He said council members have raised concerns in recent budget deliberations over neighborhood councils’ accounts at a time when the city faces myriad budget pressures. “That’s what’s bothersome … it’s just sitting there,” Smith said. And another city appropriation of $4 million will be given to the councils this summer, swelling their combined coffers to $10 million. “That’s a lot of money,” said City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka. “I’d like to see them use it for some of the public works programs, like the sidewalks program (where the city provides a 50-50 match).” But Lisa Sarno, acting general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, said some councils have not spent their funds yet because they are relatively new, while others are just learning what they can spend it on. “We’ll be working with various neighborhood councils on projects (to spend money on),” Sarno said. Former DONE general manager Greg Nelson defended councils’ stockpiling their funds, saying it allows them to do bigger projects and removes any pressure to “spend money foolishly” if they risked forfeiting it every year. “We didn’t want them spending like drunken sailors at the end of each year,” Nelson said. “We wanted to train them to spend (the money) wisely, or to bank it for big projects.” Annual total spending by the councils has increased from $930,889 in fiscal 2004 to a projected $2.1 million this fiscal year. The average annual spending per council has risen from $14,321 to $25,181. Councils each have a bank card with a $1,000-per-purchase limit that also allows them to draw down $500 in petty cash each month. They also have a city account from which checks are cut by the City Controller’s Office to vendors. But infighting on some boards has stalled projects, or made it difficult to come up with a unified plan that reflects community priorities. Other boards have adopted a conservative philosophy to spending. And others say city regulations make it difficult to determine which projects they can fund. Tuesday night, for example, nine members of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council spent about 15 minutes debating whether to spend $600 on buses for a graduation trip for 100 Topeka Drive Elementary School students, and another $290 to sponsor 10 low-income students on the outing. The council – which has spent or committed to spend about $13,000 of its $50,000 appropriated since September – decided the buses should be Los Angeles Unified School District’s responsibility, but agreed to fund the sponsorships. “I told you it’s a frugal group,” said Jim Alger, president of the council. “Generally we don’t spend a lot of money because we’re not bureaucrats. We act as though it’s our own money.” Alger defended spending $103 on two vans to take stakeholders to City Hall during the controversial Sunshine Canyon Landfill debate, and another $50 or so each month on food for meetings. “We find by feeding people they tend to come,” he said. The board also has approved $1,500 for an automatic dialing system that alerts stakeholders to meetings and other matters. As of last month, Pacoima Neighborhood Council still had more than $81,000 out of $150,000 appropriated since 2003. But it will lose $37,213 if it’s not spent in the next year, records show. President Edwin Ramirez said Pacoima’s troubles in spending the funds are the same as many other neighborhood councils. “Spending money requires training and knowledge. When you spend public funds, there are rules you have to follow,” he said, including not being able to make donations to nonprofit groups. Ramirez said the council has funded Christmas gifts for low-income families, safe places for kids to go on Halloween, educational programs for high school seniors and street improvements in partnership with the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce. But another “tricky part,” he said, is finding consensus on a 23-member board. Turmoil for the Arleta Neighborhood Council, which dissolved last year and reformed in January, has contributed to the council’s account balance of more than $110,000 out of $125,000 appropriated. “The money just built up,” said President Al Piantanida, who noted that the council recently rented office space at $6,000 for the year and is embarking on several projects. Piantanida said the council is considering spending about $5,000 on banners celebrating Arleta’s first high school, planting trees along Arleta Avenue and buying sturdier trash cans for an elementary school. Canoga Park Neighborhood Council has taken a different tack, spending more than $100,000 of its $162,500 in city funds so far. The council, he said, has funded projects ranging from the annual Memorial Day Parade and Day of the Dead festival to programs for youth and others. “The biggest obstacle sometimes is the rules within the city – where we can spend the money, and can’t spend the money,” said Michael Cortez, the council’s president. At Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council, which will lose $38,000 if it’s not spent in the next year, new chairwoman Kim Thompson said there are differing schools of thought on how the money should be spent. She said the board agreed to spend $3,200 to send four people to Sacramento for a conference on emerging technologies for dealing with trash because closing Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills is the community’s top issue. Others on the board have backed projects such as spending $25,000 for park playground equipment, an investment that was matched by Councilman Smith. While Smith acknowledged there can be merits to stockpiling money for large projects, he also said there needs to be oversight. firstname.lastname@example.org (818) 713-3731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Despite getting $11 million in city funding over the past four years, Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils have spent less than half of it and now risk forfeiting $2 million, according to a Daily News analysis. Since 2002, 85 councils that have emerged in the grass-roots system have received $11 million from the city in $50,000-a-year increments. But more than $6 million remains unspent and the councils, which have three fiscal years to spend each year’s appropriation, now have $2 million that has been unused for so long that it will revert to the city’s general fund if not spent by next summer. And the half-full coffers are raising questions about whether the councils are serving their communities effectively.