FARMINGTON — The Board of Selectmen postponed action Tuesday night in response to a request that the town start funding area nonprofit and social service agencies.

The request, presented by Fen Fowler, former executive director of Western Maine Community Action on behalf of nine groups, follows a decision by the county to cut funding for social services and plans to eliminate it by next year.

“For 35 years, the county provided a great service funding community and economic development,” Fowler said. “We want to pressure them to return to that model, and in the meantime we hope the town will be open to reversing its policy of no outside agencies being funded.”

Although at one point Farmington did consider requests from outside groups, that policy was discontinued several years ago to prevent agencies from soliciting both the county and the municipality. Farmington does contribute to the county funding and in 2017 gave $19,055 to nonprofits through the county, according to a study by the University of Maine at Farmington and United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.

At Town Meeting in March, Farmington voters also authorized a one-time expense of $18,000 for nonprofits to make up for cuts by the county.

According to the study, 17 of Franklin County’s 21 towns currently accept requests from nonprofit groups for outside funding. Of those, 16 towns last year chose to give funding, while the town of Strong did not. The towns of Industry and New Sharon do not accept requests.

Selectman Matthew Smith said he is concerned that if Farmington went ahead and agreed to accept funding requests, the county “would say, ‘Thanks,’ and never look at it again.”

Selectman Michael Fogg also said he was concerned that it could be hard for agencies to collect the money they’re looking for if every town in the county is not on board. It could be unfair for towns that decide to contribute while others don’t, he said.

“I think you’ve got to come up with some way to get the towns to replace the money the county took away and convince them all to do that,” Fogg said. “To me, that’s what you have to do.”

In May, the Franklin County Budget Committee approved $61,200 in funding for nonprofit programs, including Western Maine Community Action, which provides assistance to low and middle income families, particularly on housing and heating problems; and Seniors Plus, which offers in-home services and support for the elderly and people with disabilities. Western Maine Transportation, the Franklin County Fireman’s Association and Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District also received funding.

The $61,200 — which represents about 1 percent of the $6.56 million overall budget approved by the county — is down from the $171,200 directed toward such programs two years ago. It was also less than the $94,200 the five groups asked for collectively.

District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann and District 2 Commissioner Charlie Webster both have said they envision completely eliminating funding for social services by 2019-2020, saying taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund services that not everyone is using.

Fowler, and Bill Crandall, who also works for Western Maine Community Action, said however, the programs they offer serve primarily the elderly and low-income residents and reduce the strain on other taxpayer funded entities. For example, investments by the group in weatherization and home heating assistance help reduce fire departments having to respond to house fires, Crandall said.

Fowler also said it is currently a struggle for the groups because the county budget was approved after municipalities approved their budgets, making it difficult to go back to the towns for the 2018-2019 budget season.

“A majority of these clients are elderly,” Fowler said. “We want our elderly to be as independent as possible, to be as healthy as possible and to be good citizens that can pay their taxes. The services provided by these organizations help them have a hand up so they can do that.”

Selectmen moved to postpone discussion on the request to a future meeting.

In other news Tuesday, the board moved not to fund the purchase of a used tanker truck for the Farmington Fire Department, citing concern about future funding needs that will arise.

They also authorized the Police Department to enter into an agreement with the Franklin County Agricultural Society to provide police services for the week of the Farmington Fair at a cost of $13,650.

The cost covers 320 hours of police work and could come in at less if, for example, it’s a rainy day and less manpower is needed, said police Chief Jack Peck. The revenue will go toward overtime for officers who work the fair.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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