FARMINGTON — Two social service agencies say they aren’t sure what impact Farmington’s selectmen vote this week to stop asking Town Meeting voters to give money to them will have.

The American Red Cross and domestic violence advocacy group Safe Voices could still petition to get the request for funding added to the warrant. They could also possibly get it from the county — where selectmen who voted to keep it off the warrant suggested it come from — but the county hasn’t added new groups to its charitable funding in years.

Representatives from the two groups said they provide social services that people would otherwise come to the government for. In this year’s $4.9 million budget, the town gave $5,000 to Safe Voices and $2,000 to the American Red Cross, which accounted for 0.2 percent of the budget and translates in property taxes to less than 2 cents for every $1,000 of valuation.

Jane Morrison, executive director of Safe Voices, said her organization works closely with the police department, University of Maine at Farmington and Franklin Memorial Hospital to help victims of domestic violence as well as run education services.

The three-county organization has a Farmington office that works with police to help victims find safe shelter and help them get protection from abuse orders. They also run a 24-hour hotline.

Reports of domestic violence assaults are on the rise, Morrison said. There was a 20 percent increase in the number of domestic violence assaults reported in Maine from 2011 to 2012, according to the Maine Unified Crime Report.

She said donations from municipalities account for about $26,000 out of a $1.5 million dollars budget for the organization. She said the $26,000 from the towns is important though because it is a general donation, while much of their donation revenue comes earmarked to be used for specific causes. For example, she said the group recently received a grant, but it could only be used to buy holiday gift cards for residents they serve.

“Not getting the funding will have a negative impact,” she said.

Red Cross Branch Manager Jennifer Gaylord said the American Red Cross focuses on disaster relief and preparedness in the area.

The group helps with housing, food and clothing needs for those struck with a disaster, most commonly a house fire.

“When somebody has a house fire, no matter what time, we are there for their basic needs,” she said. “Without us, that would fall on first responders.”

She said the Red Cross won’t cut back on its services in Farmington if it is not funded by the town. She said the Red Cross is not funded at the federal or state level, and the agency is still deciding if it will go to the county for funding and assess what its options are, she said.

Lewiston-based American Red Cross United Valley serves Oxford, Franklin, Kennebec and Androscoggin counties.

Would county pay?

Franklin County Commissioner Fred Hardy said he was surprised that the two selectmen who have been county budget committee members, Chairman Ryan Morgan and Andrew Hufnagel, were among the three board members who recommended the agencies go to the county for funding.

“They’re the same people who wanted to cut the county budget. We can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Hardy and Budget Committee Chairman John Calloway said the county historically has not accepted new agencies to the list of groups getting funding, though both said they will have to see what the majority of the commissioners and the budget committee want to do.

Hardy said he thinks only a few agencies have been added in the past decade, and none have been added in recent years.

Franklin County commissioners approved $274,313 in requests from nonprofit groups this year and are only allowed to ask for funding at either the county or municipal level so residents don’t get taxed twice.

Hufnagel, a county budget committee member, said it is too early to say that the county won’t support the charities, particularly if county officials were presented persuasive information on why they should accept a new agency.

“I know last year they said flat funding, flat funding, flat funding … but when we obtained new information from several agencies explaining why they needed more funding, they were granted an increase,” he said.

Morgan, a former county budget committee member, told the board that the county has a larger budget and can absorb the requests better than Farmington can.

“I just believe these agencies that the town’s been funding are countywide agencies,” he said. “I really believe if they went to the county they would receive their funding through the county.” Franklin County’s budget is $5.5 million this year.

Voters cannot propose additional warrant articles at the Town Meeting in March, said Town Manager Richard Davis, but Maine statute allows residents to petition for an article placed on the warrant by getting a written petition with signatures of voters equal to at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the town at the last gubernatorial election. The petition would need 328 signatures because 3,282 votes were cast in Farmington in the 2010 gubernatorial election, according to data from the Maine Secretary of State’s website.

What the people want

The two selectboard members who disagreed with removing the nonprofit groups noted the voters have a history of approving funding for the groups.

Selectwoman Jessica Berry told the board Tuesday that they were elected to represent the residents, and the residents have repeatedly shown they approved the funding. Last year a majority of the voters approved the funding, and the vote was not close enough where an exact tally needed to be counted.

“People have overwhelmingly voted in support of funding these agencies in past years, and I don’t believe that it is our place to take that away from them,” Berry said.

Farmington is not alone in its debate on whether to compel residents to support charities, and which ones are deserving of support, and the issue arose at nearly every town meeting in the county in the past year.

Compared to residents in other states, Maine residents have the second lowest average individual charitable giving, just above New Hampshire residents, according to a report by IRS Statistics of Income. The report, which uses deductible information, said Maine residents reported an average of $2,201 in charitable donations in 2010, the latest data available.

In Phillips, residents turned down a total of $3,078 in requests from local nonprofit groups, including Safe Voices and the American Red Cross, along with Maine Public Broadcasting Network and Community Concepts. Town Manager Elaine Hubbard told voters that selectmen and the budget committee felt it should be an individual decision to support the nonprofits.

In New Sharon, voters debated at length whether to tax people to donate to public television, before approving $600 to Channel 10 in a 35-28 vote.

Wilton selectmen and the budget committee voted against compelling residents to support the Wilton Free Public Library, which is a nonprofit separate from the town. After a 45-minute debate, residents passed the $108,650 budget.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252[email protected]