Washington County funds leverage millions for non-profits

Posted Nov. 15, 2010, at 4:13 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — As Washington County’s Budget Committee grapples with a possible half million-dollar shortfall, it might have considered cutting funds to the third-party agencies making their annual appeals.

But as agency representatives came before the committee to defend their requests recently, each pointed out that funding from the county triggers millions in state and federal money for the area.

For a proposed 2011 investment of $86,850, the county could obtain more than $5.3 million for the non-profits, according to County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald. That is a return of more than $61 for each $1 spent.

“To cut out all that funding would be foolish,” Fitzgerald said this week. “That funding leverages millions.”

The Washington County Council of Governments, for example, has requested $4,500 from the county but stands to leverage $1.2 million in funds from Community Development Block Grants and other planning grants. WCCOG assists towns with creating comprehensive plans, shore land zoning and subdivision ordinances, and grant writing expertise.

Washington County Soil and Water Conservation reported that it leverages several million dollars for the county’s $11,000 investment. This agency provides technical and financial services for communities on natural resource issues.

The Washington County Extension Service, which provides a wide range of services, including research and education, is asking for $42,000 to obtain just under one million dollars more from state and federal sources.

The Down East Resource Conservation and Development Council — which provides support for Sunrise Trail, Washington County: One Community, Greenland Point Center, and several other groups — is asking for $4,500. With that money last year, the council obtained $120,000 more in U.S. Department of Agriculture funds.

Another five agencies that requested a total of $24,850 from the county are purely research based or service oriented and do not trigger other funds. They are Eastern Maine Development Corp., Washington County Firefighters Association, Down East Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, Next Step Domestic Violence Project and Down East Hospice.

Proposals for the county budget began this fall at $750,000 above anticipated revenues and current tax assessments, but the committee has eliminated several positions, trimmed services and brought that shortfall down to about $500,000. Even though the proposed budget is actually less than it was five years ago, the amount to be raised through taxation will be up due to a lack of surplus funds.

“The budget that covers the actual running of the county is less than last year,” the manager said.

Fitzgerald said the budget review process this year was streamlined and that each third-party request was assessed separately.

“We looked at what the services were that [each agency] provides and how it would affect the county if those services were not there,” she said. “And would the county government have to provide that service if the non-profit could not.”

The Budget Committee will meet later this month for its final meeting to determine which agencies will get funding and how much, as well as to finish its work on other budget recommendations. A completed proposed budget will be handed to the County Commissioners on Dec. 2.

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