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Nonprofits react to possible cuts

March 17, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Leaders of some area nonprofit groups said this week that any more budget cuts by the Washington County Commissioners would force the organizations to cut back on public services.

Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue President Jason Baer said the group might have to lobby the commissioners for a fire tax if it comes up short on funding.

The comments were in response to statements made Tuesday by County Commissioner John C. Munson. Munson said he would favor cutting funding for all nonprofit groups the county supports if necessary.

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"If we have to, I don't want to single out any certain ones," Munson said. "It should be across the board."

Reducing money to the groups would help make up some of the county's nearly $5.2 million shortfall for fiscal year 2004, which begins July 1, Munson said.

Munson said Friday he's not certain whether the commissioners would pursue that option.

The county lists 17 groups in its nonprofit budget.

In addition to the Fire and Rescue Association, the Washington County Commission on Aging, Tri-County Council of Western Maryland, the Humane Society of Washington County and Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) are among the groups considered by the county to be nonprofit.

The commissioners last year cut funding for nonprofit groups by 3 percent. That cut affected the fiscal year 2003 budget.

Frederick F. Otto, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said 5,500 seniors serviced by the group would be affected by the potential cuts.

Otto said organization officials had to restructure the Commission on Aging after the 3 percent cut from the county last year.

"With an additional reduction, it's going to mean a reduction in services to seniors," Otto said.

The group also is expecting a reduction in funding from the state, Otto said.

The Commission on Aging has asked for $400,494 from the county for the next fiscal year. That's an increase of $15,404 over the fiscal year 2003 contribution of $385,090. County staff members have recommended that the group not receive the requested increase for next year, according to the county's proposed budget.

The group provides 32 programs and services to help assist seniors in living independently. The organization's total budget is about $2 million.

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts Director Jean Woods said she also is concerned about Munson's position on funding for nonprofit groups.

"Any cut would definitely affect the exhibits and art programs that the museum is able to offer," said Woods, adding that art is an important part of a child's education.

The museum receives about 72,000 visitors a year.

Woods said museum officials have been trying to make up for the 3 percent cut last year by increasing fundraising efforts.

Baer said he didn't know whether the Fire and Rescue Association would be subject to cuts, but that the group would be ready to look at other funding options.

"We're prepared to do whatever we have to do..." Baer said.

He said lobbying the commissioners to enact a fire tax is one of the options. The commissioners already have the authority from the state to impose such a tax, he said.

"All they got to do is make that decision," Baer said.

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