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Council weighs funding

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GREENFIELD — Nonprofit organizations are asking for more than $150,000 in public money to help sustain their programs next year.

As Greenfield city officials weigh the 2015 budget next week, the annual question of how much to support entities that help the community will be on the table.

 From groups that plant flowers in the downtown district to those that provide transportation to senior citizens, city officials say it’s a tough call every year whether to give to the organizations, or keep the purse strings tight in order to sustain the city’s own budget.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t use tax money for that,” said Councilman John Patton. “But it’s been going on for so long it’s a very difficult thing to end.”

City budget workshops kick off next week. The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at city hall to listen to expense requests for next year.

The council must weigh how much to give to police, fire, animal management, parks and more. There’s nearly $5.2 million in requests for most city departments, but with anticipated revenues, that’s roughly $400,000 more than what the city will have to spend.

Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese said grant requests from nonprofit organizations come up every year.

For 2014, the council gave $117,000 to nonprofits, and officials caught some flak for it. City employees, for example, didn’t think it was appropriate to give to charities instead of taking care of the city’s own needs: Plenty of cuts were made in departments, and employees did not get raises.

“I get that, but I also understand with a lot of these (nonprofit organizations), if the city didn’t help fund them, they could close,” Breese said.

A 3 percent employee raise is penciled in for most city departments for 2015; police and fire departments are asking for a $3,000 raise per employee. Some city officials are asking for more employees to run their departments, and there are a few other requests that show a bump from 2014. The city’s technology department, for example, is asking for $9,000 more in overtime; the police department wants $10,000 to hire a cleaning crew because it can no longer use an inmate work crew.

While department heads are asking for more money, so are some of the organizations. The Hancock Economic Development Council, for example, is asking for a $10,000 bump, making it the highest request from an organization, at $50,000. Greenfield Main Street is asking for $30,000; it’s the same request as last year, but the council only approved $20,000.

A group of city employees is also asking for a grant: A wellness committee is seeking $10,000 to promote health programs among employees. This is the second year for the group; the council granted $10,000 last year.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations have been showing up at council meetings this summer to explain their mission and their needs. They likely won’t be given time to talk at budget hearings next week.

Linda Hart, director of Hancock County Senior Services, said her agency’s $20,000 request is vital to the organization. The group receives funding from the Indiana Department of Transportation to transport seniors, but that money requires a 50 percent local match.

“They are not going to put money into our community if our community does not value this,” Hart said. “We need to be able to keep people in their homes and living independently as long as they possibly can.”

The council reviews formal requests from the organizations and votes on them one-by-one in the budget hearings.

“To take our support away, they would have to try to make up that funding somewhere else, and if they couldn’t, that organization may have to go away,” said Councilman Jason Horning.

Patton said while he would like organizations to be able to stand on their own feet without public dollars, the council will likely approve most of the requests as they have in years past. The grants have been given for so long that the organizations depend on the money, he acknowledged.

“In a perfect world, these organizations – all of which are very deserving – would get funding directly from the public in donations from people that use it,” Patton said.

There’s a fine line the council must draw in deciding how to spread public dollars to various organizations while still having enough money to meet the needs at city hall, Breese said.

“There is a line, and what that line is, it’s up to the council to make that determination,” he said.

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