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Anyone wondering whether the Salvation Army should receive money for its substance abuse program, even though it missed the application deadline, should be aware that Salt Lake County has allowed others to miss deadlines without punishment.

Earlier this year, five organizations applied late for federal social service block grants appropriated through the county. One, the Rape Recovery Center, was six days late in applying. Yet county commissioners told the citizens' panel in charge of recommending how to allocate funds to consider those groups anyway.The situation isn't entirely analogous with the one that may keep the Salvation Army from receiving funds because it came in the door 10 minutes past the deadline. For one thing, the amount of money under consideration in the earlier case was considerably smaller. For another, those smaller amounts were more vital to the organizations in question and provided direct services to people who otherwise would turn to the county for help. And, for a third reason, those organizations were given only three weeks to prepare applications.

This page has urged the county to stick to its rules in denying the Salvation Army, and that still would be the best course.

But both instances point to a need for a better process, one that allows the county to set rules and strictly follow them. Fortunately, people are working on solutions.

Lynn Price, chairwoman of the county's Human Services Advisory Council, said she will recommend a deadline next year that extends over five working days. Organizations could submit applications at any time during that period. After that, no late applications would be considered.

This seems like a reasonable plan, provided applicants are given sufficient time to prepare.

The process is not trivial. Competition for federal block grants is bound to become fierce as Congress shrinks the amounts available. Salt Lake County needs a procedure that ensures fairness, and it needs to stick to the rules it establishes.