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Sue Guinn Legg

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Budget process leaves local non-profits on chopping block

June 21st, 2014 10:02 pm by Sue Guinn Legg

Budget process leaves local non-profits on chopping block

The local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club is among 25 non-profit agencies that will lose funding if the most recent budget proposal is adopted by the City Commission. (Sue Guinn Legg/Johnson City Press)

In the spring of 2011, Johnson City leaders put 25 local non-profit organizations on notice that special appropriation funding they have long been awarded from the city’s annual budget would be eliminated.

As part of the budget process that year, a plan was put in place to reduce the funding gradually at a pace of 10 percent annually over a 10-year period without any guarantee the funding would continue in any subsequent year.

Three years into the plan, Johnson City Budget Manager Lora Grogg notified the agencies in a letter dated May 21 that city staff would recommend commissioners halt the special appropriations in their entirety July 1.

The total of $322,000 in cuts to agencies came Thursday night with the City’s Commission’s first-reading of a $204 million budget for fiscal 2014-15 that followed a public hearing in which representatives of at least six of those 25 organizations pleaded for a reprieve.

Despite arguments that the loss of the services the organizations provide will undercut the city’s quality of life and thus its appeal to new businesses looking to locate here, and that higher costs will be recognized in other areas such as law enforcement, decreased employment and individual financial instability, the budget proposal was approved by the commission on a 3 to 2 vote.

With Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioners Jeff Banyas and David Tomita voting to approve and Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioner Jenny Brock opposed, the budget was approved again on second reading Friday morning and will come up for the commission’s third and final vote at the end of this week.

While Stout has indicated there may be time to shuffle money from elsewhere in the budget, each of the agencies are bracing for the loss of allocations ranging from $3,000 to $40,000.

“The challenge for the agencies is that these dollars are going to go away in less than two weeks,” said Lester Lattany, president and CEO of the local United Way, which raises community donations for five health and human service organizations to be impacted.

Speaking to the commission Thursday, Lattany requested the city “bridge the (funding) gap” for the agencies for six months to allow the United Way an opportunity to raise additional funds to keep their services at their current level.

A motion by Stout to provide $190,000 to the agencies as well as a motion from Van Brocklin to implement a property tax increase were both defeated by the commission.

At Coalition for Kids, a faith-based afterschool and summer enrichment program for children with special needs identified by Johnson City schools, Executive Director Randy Hensley said the loss of a $25,000 appropriation from the city will equate to a full year of programming for 25 children.

While the loss will be difficult, Hensley said “there are other agencies that have lost grants where I think there is going to be a dire, dire impact.

“Had they done what they said they were going do and reduced it 10 percent a year until it was gone, every one of these agencies was prepared to handle that,” he said. “Either they planned to do that or they never planned to do it.

“And the things they are picking and choosing. I love animals, I am humane. But to take care of stray animals and not take care of stray children, looking to the city’s future, just blows my mind.

“So we find ourselves, as people begin preparing to send their kids back to school and they need child care so they work but don’t have the resources for that, the city will say, ‘We have no help for you. But we sure have a lot of nice recreational opportunities.’ ”

At Adult Day Services, Executive Director Pam Gardner said the $9,000 in funding from the agency will lose would have provided 180 days of care for a senior or a disabled adult, keeping them out of a nursing home and allowing their family caregiver to work.

Gardner said Adult Day Services also used the city appropriation as matching funds for a $140,000 federal grant for its program.

“We use all our community donations as match funds and we will have to raise that. But ours is small compared to some of the other agencies.

“I don’t know yet, but for the first time I think we may be able to absorb it. But I am as much concerned for the other agencies as I am for us. And I am truly concerned about what it’s going to mean to the community in other dollars. How many more police calls will there be for the elderly and for people who need Safe Passage (Domestic Violence Shelter)?”

Lisa Eggers, executive director of Keystone Dental Care, said while she appreciates the support the city provides to the clinic, the $6,500 to $7,000 the clinic will not receive will leave it without funds for about three months worth of dental supplies.

At the Boys & Girls Club, Executive Director Robin Crumley said the board of directors has already had one proactive meeting on the club’s loss of $32,700 from the city and put its “staffing, services, programming, all of that, under review.”

“We did what they asked us to do and reduced ours by 10 percent a year. Taking it all at once is a hard pill to swallow. Basically they’re chopping us off at the knees,” she said.

Charles Good, president and CEO of Frontier Health, said the loss of $40,000 from the city used to leverage a $114,000 grant for mental health support services for at-risk students and families at Mountain View Elementary School will put the program at risk.

“The power of having that kind of fundamental funding from the community is tremendous when your applying for grants because it’s an indicator of how much the community values your services. We’ll attempt to find a local match, or if not, we’ll lose the grant,” Good said.

Other nonprofit agencies and programs to be impacted include:

• Appalachian Mountain Project Access Appalachia, a grass-roots health care program for people without access to health care.

• The Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, a continuum of service providers that together leverage federal funding for housing and support programs across the eight-county region.

• The Blue Plum Festival, administered by the nonprofit Friends of Olde Downtowne.

• Carter County Tomorrow, a strategic economic development partnership serving Carter County, Elizabethton and Watauga.

• Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.

• The Children’s Advocacy Center for sexually and physically abused children in the 1st Judicial District.

• Even Start Literacy, a family literacy program for children and their parents.

• Girls Inc. afterschool and summer enrichment program for girls.

• Good Samaritan Ministries.

• Hands On! Regional Museum.

• The Johnson City Area Arts Council.

• The Johnson City Athletics Club, a champion-producing youth boxing and training organization operated jointly by the city and the Johnson City Housing Authority.

• Johnson City Downtown Clinic’s Day Center for the homeless.

• The Johnson City Symphony.

n The Keystone Family Resource Center.

n Safe Passage Domestic Violence Shelter.

• The Salvation Army.

• Second Harvest Food Bank.

• Sister Cities International.

• The Tennessee Rehabilitation Center for people with disabilities.

• Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.

• Umoja Arts & Cultural Inc., organizer of Johnson City’s annual Umoja unity festival.

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