December 14, 2013

Nonprofit groups denied funding by Farmington selectmen say town needs their services

Selectmen recommend Safe Voices and American Red Cross ask Franklin County for the money, but county officials say they don’t accept new social service groups to their list of funded agencies.

By Kaitlin Schroeder
Staff Writer

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.

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