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Aid Agencies Plead for County Funds

Executives and clients of several social service organizations came before the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners at a public budget hearing on Thursday.

Faced with funding cuts that would result from the elimination of earmark grants in the county's proposed 2013 budget, representatives and clients of a number of Montgomery County social services organizations implored the county's board of commissioners Thursday morning to find a way to maintain the county's financial support for their operations.

"You call this support an 'earmark.' We call it a lifeline," said Lilibet Coe, executive director of The Open Line, a Pennsburg-based agency that provides support services to low-income residents of the Upper Perkiomen area.

Coe said the $27,800 that The Open Line stands to lose in 2013 was "a relatively small investment resulting in a very large impact."

Harvey Strauss, co-executive director of Legal Aid of Southeast Pennsylvania, estimated that the elimination of that agency's support from the county would mean Legal Aid would be able to serve about 500 fewer clients in Montgomery County in 2013.

"Without Legal Aid, most of these people will have no legal representation of any sort. And their serious problems will undoubtedly get worse. Residents of western, northwestern, and even central parts of Montgomery County who've been served by the Pottstown Legal Aid office [which would close], will be the most severely affected by these cuts," Strauss said.

Supporters of ARC Alliance Turn Out in Force

Perhaps the most compelling testimony of the morning's session came from residents who said they rely on the services of the Reading-based ARC Alliance. ARC Alliance CEO Paul Stengle said the agency, which assists children and families struggling with intellectual and developmental disabilities, would have to "turn away the vast majority" of its Montgomery County clients if the county's budget is approved in its current form. The elimination of the ARC Alliance's earmark would deprive the agency of about $37,000.

Fighting through tears, county resident Erin Dickey spoke of her fear of losing the guidance of Sharon Jones, the ARC Alliance's director of advocacy services, as she navigated her school district's special education services for her son.

"The teachers didn't know how to handle him ... We really need to have Sharon [Jones] and the ARC to help parents like me, who don't know anything [about special education]. I didn't know what an IEP [individual education plan] was. I didn't know what the best thing was for my son. The teachers didn't understand how to deal with his needs. Sharon helped him get where he needed and to where he is today," Dickey said.

Dickey was one of several residents who testified specifically in support of Jones, the ARC Alliance's last remaining advocacy worker. Stengle said the agency had previously had three educational advocates, but that after years of recent cutbacks, only Jones remained.

Jones' 15-year-old daughter, testifying during the hearing's evening session, told the commissioners that the elimination of the $37,000 earmark would "cost my mother her job."

"The elimination of the earmark for the ARC does not mean the end of county funding for the ARC," County Commissioner Josh Shapiro said, noting that the ARC Alliance will receive more than $1.5 million in payments from the county through existing contracts.

The Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League and the Elmwood Park Zoo were among the other entities whose representatives came before the commissioners.

County Commissioner Leslie Richards said the 2013 budgeting process had required "heartbreaking work" and that the decision to eliminate earmarks was "no reflection on the value of these [20] organizations" that were affected by the cuts.

In a "budget fact sheet" released Thursday, the county government said that the earmark grant process employed under previous county administrations was arbitrary and lacked "specific criteria" for how "winners" and "losers" were chosen.

The $413.8 million budget is scheduled to come up for final approval at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Dec. 6.

SMYRNA-X November 30, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Djbemom, you hit the nail on the head. If more people would see the govt as a safety net, than a handout, we would not be in this financial cliff situation. Instead the freebees for unemployment, welfare and health are getting harder to burden the middle class with. Most of the people arguing for the programs are employees. How could the likelyhood of thier loss of jobs not be bias. To the murse- catholic charities, salvation army, ymca, ywca, birthright -all carried on without govt money for years. Thier missions important enough to raise money but not destroy our country's economy.
JoeRN November 30, 2012 at 09:57 PM
SMYRNA-X: http://webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=0708001&vnum=107514 webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=1206101&vnum= http://webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=may28005&vnum=113719 http://webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=may28002&vnum=113766 http://webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=0104108&vnum=113720 http://webapp.montcopa.org/openrecords/contracts/default.asp?report=2&key=1222106&vnum= Love, The Murse
SMYRNA-X November 30, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Murse, your right. Those non profits do take govt money. They did not years ago. Now they are part of the drain on tbis country, state, and county.
My two cents December 01, 2012 at 12:36 AM
You can debate the merits of nonprofits all you want. Some do good others are a waste. What you cannot debate is that we over spend and are over taxed. It is a tough decision but the stark reality is that we just can't continue to raise taxes everytime a group needs funds. It is refreshing that the new board of county commissioners balanced the budget WITHOUT A TAX INCREASE! I feel sorry for the nonprofits but I am happy our taxes are not going up again.
djbemom December 01, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I feel for the commissioners. They have some Solomon type decisions to make. Most people do not realize, however, our county taxes increased last year by 17% mostly due to decreased state funding which was due to decreased federal funding. This is the trickle down effect of the new century. The services are great. The community college is great. The libraries and parks are great. We cannot continue to have 17% tax increases on a yearly basis to support them. Someone has to put their big boy and girl pants on and make hard decisions....there are people on the state and federal level that have to do the same thing although, especially on the federal level, I don't think they are going to. I am glad I am not that person....they will not be popular.

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