SNOW HILL – County leaders expressed concern over growing funding requests from local non-profits at a budget work session this week.
As the Worcester County Commissioners began tackling the county’s $22 million budget shortfall — going through the budget proposals from most county departments Tuesday — several questioned the $791,000 set to go to local social service organizations.
“I think we need to take a serious look at all of them,” said Jim Bunting, president of the commissioners.
Originally, local non-profits, considered “Other Social Services” by the county, requested $843,807 for FY 2016. A committee of county staff tweaked that request, bringing it down to $791,028. That included flat funding for all organizations except the Worcester County Developmental Center and the Cricket Center, both of which were to receive slight increases. The proposed grant for the developmental center was $223,000, or $2,000 more than last year’s grant, while the Cricket Center was set to receive $12,000, about $3,500 more than it received last year.
Bunting pointed out non-profits had all been started by people committed to fundraising to support a cause.
“All of these organizations are organizations that started somewhere with a group of people seeing a need and they went out and raised money,” he said. “Somewhere along the line it got to the point the government now has to fund those organizations.”
He said funding them should be considered carefully and that the organizations should “get back to the roots” of how they started, with like-minded people raising money.
Commissioner Bud Church, however, said all of the organizations set to receive grants were worthwhile.
“Every one of these grants serves a purpose,” he said. “There isn’t one I’d eliminate.”
Commissioner Diana Purnell said that even though they received some funding from the county, most of the organizations still did fundraising on their own.
“We have an outstanding volunteer core in this group,” she said, adding that the amount requested wasn’t much when you considered the county’s entire $189 million budget.
The commissioners did agree to reduce the grants the developmental center and the Cricket Center to the level they were at last year.
“If we hold everybody else flat, it’d be fair to hold them flat,” Church said.
Nevertheless, Commissioner Chip Bertino said that he shared Bunting’s concerns about annual non-profit funding and agreed that the issue should be looked into in the future.
“I think that’s a conversation that should be had,” he said, “as to what the county’s role is in funding these organizations.”
Commissioners also questioned the $60,000 funding request submitted by the Discovery Center. Higgins said the Discovery Center would be able to get a matching grant if it could raise $100,000. Center staff asked the county for $60,000 — $10,000 more than last year’s contribution — to help reach that goal.
“I don’t think they should be looking for it from the county,” Bunting said.
Bertino pointed out that the Discovery Center was not the county’s responsibility. Nevertheless, Worcester County typically provides the museum with $50,000 a year.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw suggested giving the Discovery Center $50,000 for one more year.
“Give them one more year and tell them they’ve got to be on their own,” he said.
Church agreed, adding that he was confident that the Stacey Weisner, the center’s new director, would be an aggressive fundraiser.
“Next year if she hasn’t turned it around we need to take a hard look,” he said.
Bunting said he thought that if the county was going to provide the facility with funding it should be at the level it was last year — $50,000. All of the commissioners except for Joe Mitrecic, who said he didn’t think the center should get any money, agreed.
In considering the $7 million budget proposed by the Worcester County’s Sheriff’s Department, the commissioners agreed to reduce the amount of funding included for new vehicles. Though the department requested funding for seven new vehicles, funding will only be provided for five.
Church said he didn’t want to cut any more than that.
“If we get further behind it’s hard to catch up,” he said.
Mitrecic said he objected to the department purchasing Chevy Tahoes instead of sedans.
“There’s other vehicles out there that could be looked at,” he said.
Church, however, said deputies spent eight to 10 hours a day in their vehicles and needed space for all their equipment.
Also in an effort to save money, the commissioners agreed to forgo purchasing the equipment to film their meetings. Suggested by Mitrecic earlier this year, the recording equipment was budgeted at $65,000.
“They deserve to see what happens,” Mitrecic said of county citizens, pointing out that they were going to be facing a tax increase this year.
Lockfaw said constituents in the south end of the county told him they didn’t support the idea of filming meetings and wanted the commissioners to cut spending. Elder agreed.
“This is not the time to be spending money on this,” he said.
Though Mitrecic, Bertino and Bunting were opposed, the majority of the commissioners agreed to remove the expenditure from the budget.
Though there were a number of cuts made during Tuesday’s work session, the commissioners did increase spending in certain areas. They increased funding for economic development consulting, bumped up the amount of money directed toward roadwork and agreed to earmark $30,000 for a crabbing pier at Taylor Landing in Girdletree.
Though the commissioners voted not to move forward with the pier earlier this spring, it had already been included in the budget. Lockfaw advocated for keeping it there, citing interest from residents and even an inquiry from the governor’s office. He said Taylor Landing had been a popular crabbing location until the boat ramps there were upgraded and that residents wanted to continue to be able to crab there — something they can’t do with the new set-up.
“We did tell them we’d try our best to remedy the situation,” Lockfaw said. “I don’t think we’re keeping to our word if we take it out. It’s not much money compared to what we spend in the north [end of the county].”
“I think that’s going to be money well spent,” he said.
Only Mitrecic objected, citing the dangers of having people crabbing where other people were putting boats in the water.
“A boat ramp is no place to have people wandering around and moving about,” he said.
The commissioners have another budget work session scheduled for May 21. They are expected to discuss the Board of Education’s $82.7 million budget request then.