Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Running out of Resources

The first and only time I attempted a “Move to Reconsider” on the floor of Town Meeting—where you ask the esteemed body to reconsider a previously decided article because of “new information”—occurred back in 1998.

Town Meeting had passed the Social Service charitable donation budget of around $100,000 with little discussion. The year before I had tried to cut a piece of it for “The Amherst Youth Center” that was getting the lions share ($19,000) and only had one or two kids participating, so the $39,000 salaried Director had it pretty cozy. Naturally I was practically booed from the podium.

But the Youth Center closed down in the following year (the town finally figured it out and pulled the money) so I simply abstained on the vote this time around, meaning I was in a position to attempt a reconsideration (you have to have voted in the majority or abstained on the original article.)

The Men’s Resource Center was getting a hefty amount ($10,000) and the day after Town Meeting approval, I learned they had a month earlier purchased a downtown building for a handsome six-figure sum and as a non-profit would be removing it (or most of it since I think they did rent a portion) from the tax rolls.

My pitch to Town Meeting was that we should deduct from the $10,000 donation the amount that would no longer be coming into the town treasury because of their tax-exempt status. Again I was met with blank clueless stares.

Now with the economic meltdown the town is, finally, talking about cutting the charitable contributions it makes annually to social service agencies. Amherst is of course the only community in the state that makes such contributions with tax dollars, and when you are a community with over 50% of the land owned by tax-exempts, that is not a sustainable combination.

Besides charitable giving should be an individual thing.

Taking the hint, the Men’s Resource Center announced their executive director would be joining the millions of Americans getting laid off and they will be selling that downtown building. Let’s hope to a private enterprise that will renovate it, employ folks and pay property taxes.


Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite. So, if the town (meaning the taxpayers) don't contribute to the Soup Kitchen, the Amherst Survival Center, and other agencies that provide services to the needy that live in Amherst, then is the town ready to step in and provide these same services and at what cost?

The town is getting off easy. If the town can afford soccer fields then it surely can afford to help those in need who live here.

What really should be done is things like the Men's Resource center, which do not meet a direct need for caring for the poor, should not get funding. Fair enough. They probably should never had had it in the first place.

On the other hand, the Amherst Survival Center and the Sooup Kitchen should not have to battle each year for crumbs. Their funding should be increased due to the economic downturn. Have you seen the line of people of all ages standing in line in the dead of winter to get in for a hot lunch? Give me a break. Taxpayers are getting off easy.

By having this come out of the town budget, which is funded by property tax, you are getting this deducted in part from your income taxes.

Amherst, land of the cheapskates.

Anonymous said...

NO men's resource center? Where will men get resources?

Anonymous said...

Is there something about Amherst that makes its residents unable to step up to the plate and make the private donations necessary to sustain these institutions?

What's wrong with private fundraising? Which, by the way, is also subsidized by the federal government IF you itemize charitable giving on your tax return.

I would submit that there's a difference between those community institutions that cannot do private fundraising and those that can.

"The town is getting off easy?" I don't understand that remark.

LarryK4 said...

Hmmm...I would have used "if the town can afford a freakin golf course"!

When I first spoke against the entire concept of the town doing charitable contributions (the year before I tried to cut just the "Amherst Youth Center" because it was useless)I pointed out that charity is an individual thing.

At the time, my mother was still alive and she had somewhat recently gone blind because of a major screw up at a major hospital and I always donated money to the state agencies who dealt with the blind (and did a wonderful job).

That was my choice. Let everybody compete in the marketplace.

Hill Boss, at the time a Selectman, (we always called him Boss Hill) was heavily involved in "Shelter Sunday" where college kids went door-to-door to raise money for the homeless.

And they were not on the list for Amherst taxpayer money.

That year they had just raised a little over $20,000 over a single weekend.

As Commander Spock would say "There are always alternatives"

Anonymous said...

""The town is getting off easy?" I don't understand that remark."

By that I mean that if the town government tried to provide the same services it would cost the taxpayers far more. The town only contributes a small portion to these organizations' budgets. It's just that it's a necessary portion. Most of their budgets do come from private fundraising but that is not enough to pay for all the services they provide.

For example, if the town was to feed people instead of the Soup Kitchen or Survival Center doing it then where would they do that? Do they build a building? How do they staff it? Do they hire a coordinator, cooks, custodians, etc.? (unionized workers?) The costs add up quickly. The town gets a lot for its small donation. It gets people fed that otherwise would be looking for help from the town at a much higher cost.

Anonymous said...

"When I first spoke against the entire concept of the town doing charitable contributions..."

To me feeding people at the Soup Kitchen is not about charitable donations, it's about services.

The town has a library (three in fact), so why should the town underwrite reading a book or a newspaper by providing this service, and still feel it is optional to feed the poor who live in our community?

Anonymous said...

How about the town give the social service agencies a break on their taxes. That could be worth a fair amount of money.

LarryK4 said...

Social service agencies don't pay taxes--they consume them (pay attention)

Anonymous said...

They may not pay taxes but they do provide jobs.

Realist said...

I agree that the Town, and its residents, should look upon non-rpofits that provide direct service to the poor (Soup Kitchen, Survival Center, etc.) as "services" that MUST be provided in some way by the community. If the Survival Center "went out of business" due to lack of funding who would then step up and meet the now unmet needs of the folks who rely on their services? We have a RESPONSIBILITY as a community to extend our hand in some tangible way to those who are less fortunate. It's called compassion and it's the right thing to do. (By the way - I also believe that the Men's Resource Center does NOT meet the required litmus test re: deserving public funds. Nobody is going to starve or suffer hypothermia if/when their doors close.)

My question is this: we have a Community Resource Director in this town (I think that is his title) & I am just wondering what HE does and why he isn't in the forefront on these kinds of discussions? I'm sure he makes a pretty good salary and I'm wondering if we're getting enough bang for our buck w/ this position. Seem like those administrative & departmental dollars could be used to provide some good long-term solutions to some of these problems.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

There are a lot more poor in our community than people realize. The majority are working poor that earn low wages working in places like our convenience stores.

Did you know that 44% of the children going to Crocker Farm Elementary live below the poverty line? This is based on eligbility for the free lunch program which is income determined.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, actually I knew that.

My daughter attended Crocker Farm for a few years prior to the Chinese Charter School.

I don't think you will find a bad thing I ever had to say about Crocker Farm (understanding first hand what they had to deal with).

Anonymous said...

But there's a point that's not being made above:

The money that is coming out of the Town budget for these private agencies is coming out of a finite pie, an increasingly endangered finite pie of tax money, from which municipal services that (unlike them) cannot raise money privately are being funded, including the traditional programs that address the plight of the poor, such as the police (yes, the police) and the schools. It's a zero sum game for them, but not for these agencies.

My sense is that the "charitable contributions", as Larry puts it, are sustained year after year in the Town's budget by a basically cynical view of human nature: the underlying belief is that, without the imprimatur of the government (and Town Meeting), we as private individuals in the Town would not respond to the need and supply these funds with personal donations. So when they say, "this is who we are as a community", what they are really saying is that they're not sure, and the government must step into the breach. I think that those cynics are wrong.

But the agencies have to make the appeal.

In Town Meeting, this part of the budget has become a chance for some people to preen in front of the ACTV cameras in a "who cares most about the poor?" contest, which inevitably casts some as uncaring and insensitive. It's a bad rap.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. If these agencies had an easy time fundraising, instead of the constant battle that it is, that would be one thing. Instead they are being asked to serve more, do more, and at the same time that private donations are shrinking because of all the stock market losses. There is nothing symbolic about it. This isn't about making a gesture that spurs others to give. They need the money from the town to help provide for the needy.

Robert said...

The fact remains, that these agencies have the ability to try to find funding elsewhere. Our schools, police, fire and DPW do not. I don't believe that any town money should go to these "human service agencies", when we are cutting money from services like those listed above that work for ALL citizens in Amherst. There is a reason that very few towns in the country do this.
I understand the argument that $66,000 isn't that much when compared to the overall budget, but that money is the equivilant to a police officer, firefighter or teacher. Schools and public saftey need to come first, period.

Anonymous said...

Police solve crimes, these organizations prevent it. When you push people to the edge the consequences end up affecting the whole community with problems such as higher crime, more drug abuse, etc.

Anonymous said...

And a big share of police time is devoted to property crimes (or false alarms) which means property owners get a bigger share of police services than do
the average Janes or Joes. Funding meals for the hungry is a cost effective preventive an: its a lot cheaper than having to engage police, fire, ambulance, courts, prisons, etc. - and a lot more humane. Someday even this blogger, or one of his close friends, could wind up in the soup line.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, could happen.

And soup lines were somewhat common (so I'm told) during the Great Depression.

But I'm still wondering why Amherst is the ONLY community out of 350 or so in Massachusetts that funds these types of programs with tax money?

Anonymous said...

All the above arguments made in favor of the subsidy to these private agencies can be made in favor of private contributions to them.

So why the lack of confidence about that?

I don't believe that we've tapped out the funding on the private side. And there's no cap imposed by Proposition 2 1/2 on such contributions.

I think that there needs to be more public dialogue about this, but it won't involve the sort of guilt trip that some TM members like to inflict on others. And there's the real rub. They can't give that up.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

You guys act like they never thought of fundraising. These organizations fundraise like crazy. They've also had lay-offs and budget cuts.

You are just passing the buck. Private donations is just code words for let somebody else pay for it.

Anonymous said...

It is pretty well documented that conservatives give more to charity than liberals.

For example: http://philanthropy.com/news/prospecting/index.php?id=6166

With so few conservatives in Amherst, non-profits have to turn to Town meeting Where they can be generous by donating other peoples money.

Ed said...

First, if Amherst wishes to fund groups that do public services and do them cheaply, why aren't they funding the Boy Scouts? Oh, wait, they are TAXING the Boy Scouts (or at least tried to)...

Second, there is a real issue with public funds going to what are inherently POLITICAL organizations. The Men's Resource Center has a very clear political agenda as do many of the other organizations that are funded.

Third, the totally unmentioned aspect of this is that there is a big difference between "non-profit" and "volunteer." The Boy Scouts are "volunteer" which means that THEY DON'T GET PAID! Salvation Army, churches and the like are similar - Priests get some salary but it is basic sustance for food & clothing.

On the other hand, those working for "Non-Profits" *DO* get paid and sometimes quite well.

And fourth, many of these non-profits are making quite a bit of money out of court-ordered "treatment" programs. Read the paperwork on a hate crime or domestic assault -- the perp has to go to diversity re-education training (at his expense) which does little more than provide a whole lot of unencumbered cash to these organizations.

Who then go out and do political stuff...

Anonymous said...

The Amherst Survival Center and the Soup Kitchen are not political organizations. As nonprofits they are not allowed to lobby by law. They provide basic services to the needy. The Boy Scouts are completely different. They are a private club which is a social organization that does some volunteering.

Nonprofit organizations are not the same as volutneer organizations. Nonprofit simply refers to unlike for-profit businesses there is no owner than can make a profit. The business can't be sold to someone else such that the founder gets a windfall such as you would if you sold a for-profit business. It does not mean that people don't get paid. Many hospitals are nonprofits but that doesn't mean the doctors should just volunteer or that they shouldn't charge for servies. People think that people getting paid flies in the face of the nonprofit status and that is because they don't understand the nature of nonprofit business entities.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall a certain past Select Board, one with Hwei-Ling Greeney on it, wrestling with the idea that the simple fact of the Town subsidy gave the Town some sort of essential oversight power over the organizations funded, i.e. the right to ask questions, and the right to get answers.

My guess is that the organizations want the Town's money, but not the Town's oversight.

Anonymous said...

They have the right to ask questions, but oversight? Fine. Then let the town fund them completely. Why should the town get oversight priveledges when it only cotributes a small fraction of their budgets?

Anonymous said...

Ed, Go sit in the corner and don't comment again until you have learned to use a dictionary."Sustance" isn't a word. These dumb errors wouldn't bother me so much if it weren't for the fact that you claim to be a doctoral candidate, and claim to travel in "state and national circles".