While area nonprofits were nervous about possible cuts to their agencies in the Derry 2016 budget, Town Council Chairman Mark Osborne again said nothing was set in stone and everything was on the table.
Nonprofits expressed concern about the budget after the Council directed Town Administrator Galen Stearns to cut $2 per $1,000 from the tax rate. The Upper Room’s changeable sign board outside its facility on Tsienneto Road held a plea for residents to attend the Council meeting on Tuesday, March 24, after the Nutfield News went to press, while Community Caregivers of Greater Derry sent out a mass e-mail urging voters not to support the cuts.
In a phone interview Sunday night Osborne said, “Everything is always on the table.” But, he added, specific cuts to specific nonprofits had not been discussed.
“I’m going to go back to what Dave Fischer said at the beginning of this process,” he said, referring to the Town Councilor who had originally asked Stearns for a $2.50 per $1,000 cut. The Council later amended the request to $2 per $1,000.
“We gave a goal and gave Galen charge of facilitating it,” Osborne said. As Stearns was scheduled to give a more in-depth budget presentation on March 24, Osborne said, “I am looking forward to hearing his thoughts and ideas on Tuesday.”
Osborne said he received his formal budget packet on Friday and reviewed it over the weekend. “There were some references to charitable organizations, but I don’t know which ones would be discussed,” he said.
Where did the nonprofits get the idea they were being cut?
“I honestly don’t know,” Osborne said.
Stearns said in an e-mail Monday that the proposed cuts to nonprofit funding were part of the effort to reach the $2 per $1,000.
In an e-mail to stakeholders, the staff of Community Caregivers wrote, “Community Caregivers of Greater Derry and seven other Derry area human service agencies are in grave danger of being cut from the 2016 Fiscal year budget in the Town of Derry. Please attend any and all of the following town meetings to support Caregivers, other local funded agencies and the great work that the Town Welfare Office does each day.”
Meetings listed were the Council meeting March 24, the budget hearing April 21 and the budget hearing and adoption May 5. Osborne’s e-mail and the general Council e-mail were also listed.
Services provided by Caregivers to the greater Derry area over the past 12 months were listed in the e-mail, including:
• Service to Derry clients 6,236 times;
• 16,380 volunteer hours;
• 55,683 miles driven;
• 475 items borrowed from the Loaner’s Closet and 200 cases of adult diapers and other “consumables” acquired;
• and 54 indoor and outdoor repairs or maintenance projects completed for Derry residents through Project Upkeep.
The letter continued, “Our clients consider the value of the services they receive to be priceless. First, it allows them to stay safely and with dignity in their own homes, the living situation most elderly and disabled individuals prefer. Second, many of our clients do not have families that live nearby. Our program provides the assistance their families cannot, reducing stress on both our clients and their loved ones. Third, every service provided is accompanied with a ‘friendly visit’ by one of our volunteers. This may be one of the few social contacts clients have each month.”
Caregivers’ Executive Director Cindee Tanuma said in a phone interview Monday that she had received an e-mail Friday from town Human Services Director Jill Jamro warning agencies and their clients about the cuts. “She asked us to rally everyone to come to the budget hearings,” Tanuma said.
“We had been given a heads-up a couple of months ago” that department heads were going to be asked to suggest cuts,” Tanuma added.
Tanuma said the proposed cut to Caregivers would be $19,000, “or more than 10 percent of our budget.” She said the staff and board have not talked about whether to cut a position, a program or a combination of both, should the budget with the cuts be voted in.
“It’s not just about us,” Tanuma said. “Anywhere they cut, someone else will have to pick up the slack.” That could mean fewer police or firefighters on the job and others taking up their workload, she said.
Kimberly Bavaro, executive director of The Upper Room, agreed, saying she has been following news articles about the proposed budget. “Globally speaking, it goes beyond human services,” she said, noting that cuts to fire or police would drastically cut her clients’ safety nets.
She said she put the meeting up on her sign because while The Upper Room serves clients from several towns, it is based in Derry. “This is our town,” Bavaro said. “We need to make people aware and have their voices be heard.”
She added, “We feel it’s important that the Council has a sense of what we really want.”
Even if human services and the related agencies survive the cut, Bavaro said she is nervous about public safety services. “We can’t afford as a community to cut police and fire,” she said. “It’s what we need to move forward as a healthy community.”
Like Tanuma, Bavaro said the proposed cut would be equal to about 10 percent of her budget. The town currently supplies The Upper Room with approximately $39,000, she said.
But it’s more than just a dollar amount, Bavaro added. “The town support enables us to get grants and funds from other communities. It’s used as leverage,” she said.
With state funding reduced and foundations revisiting the way they disperse grants, the town support is crucial, Bavaro said, noting that when the government and foundations cut support they often tell nonprofits to “look for local support.”
“Then the local support tells us, ‘We may not be able to fund you,’” Bavaro said.
Bavaro continued, “As a town, we are supposed to come together and support needy people. We have some wonderful representatives on the Council, but I don’t know if the Council understands the impact of the cuts they are considering.”
Bavaro said if the cuts go through, she’s not sure what she’ll trim from the budget.
Salvation Army Lt. Chris Williams said his agency receives no town funding. “It won’t affect us directly,” he said of the proposed cuts. “But I would expect a ripple effect. If the cuts go through, it will make it tight for everybody.”
However, Williams said, “I’m not going to worry about the ripple effect until it’s finalized. I was worried about Market Basket during the strike and how it was going to affect our kettle collections at the holidays, but they were up and running by the holidays.”
Tanuma said she was aware that she would not be able to comment in Tuesday’s meeting. “I know it’s just the unveiling of the budget,” Tanuma said. “But we can sit there in silent solidarity.”