Franklin County is planning to continue slashing its budget for nonprofit social services as it looks toward the possibility of eliminating all funding for nonprofit groups paid for by county government by next year.

The move, which is supported by some county leaders who say taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund services they don’t use, has also raised questions with others about whether the county is throwing away opportunities to get the best return on their money through agencies who can often use government assistance to apply for matching grants and help those most in need.

“We feel it’s not appropriate for the county property tax payers to have to pay higher taxes when many of these programs are already funded by the state and federal government,” said Franklin County District 2 Commissioner Charlie Webster, who has said he won’t sign warrants for payment if the county budget committee doesn’t approve a lower budget for social services. “If they need more money, they need to go to the legislature and convince them their program is worthy. To me, it’s hard to justify taxing a retiree living in a modest home in Avon to fund these programs.”

On Thursday, the budget committee will vote on a $6.56 million budget that includes $61,200 for so-called “program grants,” which are social services such as public transportation, heating and fuel assistance and care for the elderly and disabled provided by nonprofit groups.

That number — which represents about 1 percent of the overall budget — is down from the $171,200 the county directed toward such programs two years ago.

Commissioners, meanwhile, are proposing a $6.55 million budget, with the biggest difference between the two proposals being that commissioners want to fund the programs at an even lower level.

They are pledging $42,450. Webster and District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann said they envision completely eliminating such funding by fiscal year 2019-2020.

“I am totally supportive of fiscal restraint in government and I think it’s important to be prudent with our tax dollars, but I think that by investing in these programs like Western Maine Community Action, they’re getting a heck of a return on their investment,” said Bill Crandall, program manager for housing and energy services at WMCA, one of five programs slated for funding this year.

At one point, about nine years ago, Crandall said his agency was receiving $49,500 annually from the county. That number dropped to $40,000, then $33,000. This year they asked the county for $30,000.

The budget committee is proposing $25,000 while commissioners are proposing $10,000.

One of the primary services of the agency is to provide heating and fuel assistance to low-income and elderly residents, Crandall said, and the funds go toward that as well as other work. About 1,860 households in the county typically get heating assistance each year through a federal program, LIHEAP, that the agency helps implement.

In addition, they also do weatherization work to help residents save money on heating costs — something Crandall said helps them in turn to save money, pay their taxes and put the money back into the local economy rather than toward higher fuel costs.

Travis Pond, who serves on the nine-person budget committee, said he supports a higher level of funding for programs such as WMCA because it’s more cost effective than having individual communities provide services through general assistance.

General assistance is money Maine state law requires municipalities to provide to help those who can’t fund basic necessities such as food, shelter, fuel and electricity costs.

“There’s a need and it’s something beneficial,” Pond said. “When you look at the cost of general assistance, and then the cost of these services, it saves us as individual towns from spending general assistance and there’s a much larger return on the dollar because they can apply for matching grants and things like that.”

Overall, the proposed budgets are up about $340,000 from last year’s $6.21 million budget, with one of the largest increases coming from across the board wage increases for employees of the county sheriff’s department.

Like Webster, Brann said he supports steeper cuts to program grants, but District 3 Commissioner Clyde Barker said he agrees with the budget committee on their proposed $61,200 in funding.

“The budget has been cut back in other ways and right now, these outside agencies, they’re cut back as much as they ought to be,” Barker said. “I don’t believe our budget is going up that much, if it goes up any. I’m for my people in District 3 and I know a lot of them have to go to food pantries or they’ve been helped with heat or transportation. These programs we have left are the ones we need the most.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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