Montco’s 2013 budget plan would hit 17 nonprofits hard

Posted: November 27, 2012

To balance Montgomery County's checkbook for 2013, the commissioners used the process called zero-based budgeting, in which each department starts from scratch to calculate the bare minimum needed to perform "core services."

Left out of that conversation were 17 nonprofits that have relied in part on county funding to deliver their own core services. Those subsidies are slated for elimination, forcing some to plan immediate layoffs and closures.

Legal Aid of Southeast Pennsylvania is closing its Pottstown office and laying off at least two employees. The ARC Alliance, which assists people with intellectual disabilities, is laying off its last Montgomery County employee. And the Victim Services Center will have one fewer full-time staffer to aid rape and violent-crime victims.

Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said the elimination of such funding is not just about fixing a broken budget, but is also an issue of fairness.

"This is a small sliver of all the organizations doing good in Montgomery County," he said, adding that the previous administration "picked winners and losers."

The commissioners will hear public comments on the proposed budget Thursday, and vote on a final draft Dec. 6.

Shapiro said the line items are not set in stone, and some of the nonprofits may be able to obtain funding as contract providers for the county.

Legal Aid, for example, will retain a $30,000 contract to provide legal services for senior citizens. The agency's codirector, Harvey Strauss, said it may pursue additional contracts for Juvenile Court and other programs that it can no longer afford to do pro bono.

Legal Aid serves a low-income population, many undereducated or illiterate, disabled, elderly, or mentally handicapped. With the Pottstown office closed, many of those clients will have to travel over an hour by bus to Norristown.

Strauss said he understands the commissioners' financial dilemma. But he said he was disappointed that after 30 years, the subsidy is disappearing.

"I never thought it was going to go from $281,700 to zero," he said. "Some of the organizations they have eliminated provide invaluable, unreplaceable services to the most needy of our county."

Mary Onama heads the Victim Services Center, which provides 24/7 crisis response, trauma counseling, and assistance to about 3,000 crime victims every year.

Onama said, "When funding is eliminated, it raises questions for others who fund you. How important is your service, really, if it can be eliminated?"

Shapiro said that wasn't the commissioners' intent. "Our financial cuts should not be a reflection on the value of the organizations, but rather the reality of our county," he said. "We do not believe the county can afford to fund these earmarks any longer. And these earmarks don't represent a core function of county government."

Other cuts include:

$48,750 for Camp Rainbow, a weeklong summer camp for at-risk youth.

$19,500 for Community Cupboard, a food pantry based in Ambler.

$114,000 for the Elmwood Park Zoo.

$23,800 for the Women's Center of Montgomery County.

$259,800 from a host community block grant to Norristown, a partial compensation for serving as the county seat.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117 or jparks@philly.com, and follow her on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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