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Plan takes budget knife to local nonprofits

July 18th, 2011 11:57 pm by Gary B. Gray

More than two hours of discussion led Johnson City Commissioners to agree Monday on a proposed plan to reduce special appropriations this year by more than $68,000.
At this point, the plan is just that. No votes will be cast on the matter until Thursday’s meeting.
The result of the lengthy math session means if commissioners approve the proposal, $50,000 from this amount could be spent to help construct the Washington County/Johnson City Veterans Memorial with the city having more than $18,000 left.
But to arrive at that point, commissioners would begin at the proposed level of funding — roughly $525,000 — cut this year’s funding to Frontier Health by $12,000 and Carter County Tomorrow by $5,000. In addition, all remaining nonprofits would be cut by 10 percent across-the-board.
“We’re trying to look at this as what has the least amount of economic impact by doing this,” said City Manager Pete Peterson.
Yes, about 25 agencies will feel the sting, but that may or may not last depending on the economy. Commissioners batted around a number of ideas, including the elimination of all special appropriations funding in a 3-year step down to cutting all funding abruptly.
A consensus was formed, and it includes the fact that all agencies and organizations will be put on notice that there may be nothing for them in the appropriations pot when next year’s budget rolls around. Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Phil Carriger and Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin will begin working together to create a policy to help guide commissioners in the future regarding special appropriations. Carriger said he wants to have the method for funding for special appropriations down by September so that agencies that rely on that funding would know well in advance what to expect.
“I think the other 90 to 100 groups we don’t fund do good work too,” said Mayor Jeff Banyas. “Personally, I don’t think you pay taxes to have local government give it away. It’s very important to consider if these agencies can fund themselves.”
Peterson said Frontier Health, a large regional organization, has more than $20 million in the bank.
“I think the United Way is willing to help those organizations that may phase out (city funding) over three years, and Frontier Health has communicated to us they would be willing to do this.”
Johnson City Area Arts Council Director Sarah Davis attended the Monday agenda review meeting.
News that the regional arts council could likely be taking a hit prompted Davis to speak out.
“We serve about 7,000 students, and this money helps us pay to bring in artists,” she said. “We need (city) matching funds for the state grants we get. Most of our funding requires and one to one match, and through these grants we’ve helped fund UMOJA, the library, and we also serve about 650 at-risk and homeless kids.”
Commissioner Jane Myron favored reducing special appropriations, but she said she’d rather see that happen over time.
“For some, just cutting $1 is going to be too much,” she said.
On June 23, commissioners approved the city’s $217 million 2012 fiscal budget which included about $525,000 for special appropriations.
But City Manager Pete Peterson has been warning commissioners and city staff that the fiscal 2013 budget is likely to be a tough one and that painful cuts may need to be made. He also said every agency is informed in January that there is no guarantee for appropriations the coming fiscal year and that a loss of funding should be anticipated as a possibility.
When special appropriations came up for discussion on that date, Carriger made it clear he opposed spending taxpayer dollars on the groups, though he did acknowledge the good they do for the community. He also has pushed the hardest of any commissioner to see that the veterans memorial is funded.

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