I have to say that I was more than a little disappointed this week, as the Jefferson County Budget Committee passed a motion to only hear from non profits that made the funding cut for this fiscal year. Just like many Commissioners, I remember the lists of non profits that were requesting funding a few years ago. It was lengthy and financial crippling for Jefferson County. They made the right decision to stop the bleeding and draw the hard line in the sand. But, it never occurred to me that the decision to only fund two non profits, the Humane Society and the Boys and Girls Club, would be even semi permanent. I thought that as time and finances improved some of the most needy and impacting non profits would be added back to the list. Most of the non profits request very little in funding and I know that even the smallest amount can add up if you are funding multiple organizations but sometimes it is worth it to invest a little in those that do a lot for our residents.
More than one Commissioner has said that it is impossible to determine who is the most worthy of funding, and I admit that it would be a difficult task, but it is certainly not impossible. I am the first to admit that we cannot afford to fund every organization but what is wrong with funding categories of organizations and pre setting the total amount for non profit funding before anyone is brought in to present their case? We can afford to allocate $200,000 to non profits. Now let’s decide on the split. If we do not take care of the most vulnerable in our society, what does that say about our community? Both the Humane Society and the Boys and Girls Club have good track records and both service a large part of the County or the County in its entirety. Both also get a chunk of funding, much, much more than any other non profit is requesting and that is fine. But who determines the worth of a non profit? The user? Well, along those lines I would say that the elderly that need assistance with meals or family care givers that need to go to the doctor or dentist themselves would certainly deem the services of Meals on Wheels or Senior Citizens Home Assistance worthy. The abused wife/mother who is just trying to get out alive and the child who has seen horrors that most of us cannot even imagine would says that a safe, anonymous place to heal, such as Safe Space, offers a security that other shelters cannot and is worthy of funding. And then there are those organizations who cannot offer services to areas that do not have at least a minimal funding buy in. We all saw that when a couple of organizations had to appeal the decision of the County Commission because the loss of a couple of thousand dollars in funding from Jefferson County put thousands and thousands of funding in grant dollars in jeopardy.
This month sales tax has rebounded from a slight dip in November and December. We are up 2.2% over last year and last year we were up more than 20% from the previous year. We have hospital lease funds, around $750,000 annually, that should be used for the benefit of Jefferson County. Can we afford to start a Meals on Wheels program or other senior benefit programs? Can we afford to provide anonymous shelter at an undisclosed location for those who have been terribly abused and need time and space for healing? Probably not. Just like we cannot adequately address mental illness in our community. But we can support those that have already established organizations that do those things. Decide what we can spend-$20,000 or $200,000 or somewhere in between and decide who to fund. I know that it is a thankless job to make those kind of decisions but it is unthinkable that we will fund none or only two because no one wants to make the call.
I respect our elected officials and their job is tough. It is especially tough when you have to say “yes” to some and “no” to others. Still, it does not benefit the people to fall back of yesterday’s tough decision to keep from making today’s tough decision. And, it is a slap to deny them an audience when there is available non profit funding, no matter how it has been distributed in the past. In a have and have not society the very least we owe those striving to make it better is a level playing field.