Lebanon Rebuffs Nonprofits

Mayor: Funding Cuts Unlikely to Be Restored

City Council members last night said they would be unlikely to support an increase in funding to nonprofit social service agencies, despite a plea from one nonprofit representative for more assistance.

The comments came during a budget workshop last evening where representatives from nine of the 10 nonprofit human services agencies that receive city funding met with the council and City Manager Greg Lewis to discuss the proposed 2013 municipal budget, which would leave the city’s funding for the agencies unchanged from last year, when it was cut by more than $35,000.

After several of the nonprofit directors cited a rising need for their services and strained resources, Valerie Nevel — a board member of WISE, the Lebanon-based nonprofit that provides services to survivors of domestic assault and sexual violence — requested that the council consider reversing last year’s funding cut.

“Everybody acknowledges that the city does the best job it can, but I sat here last year and the budgets were cut by ten percent,” said Nevel. “These organizations are getting more demand.”

She continued, “I would like the council to reevauluate, and see if they could put that 10 percent back into the agencies. I know it’s a big thing to ask, but it’s needed.”

Mayor Georgia Tuttle said that the proposed budget represented another “survival mode year” and that she had “every confidence in our city manager’s ability to help all of us collobrate together.”

“I’m going to be very honest, I don’t see myself voting to put back 10 percent,” Tuttle said. “I don’t think that is something we can do.”

City Councilor Nicole Cormen agreed that the funding should remain flat. She said many Lebanon residents were teetering on the verge of needing the social services, and that more funding for nonprofits would require a rise in property in taxes that would hurt those residents.

Cormen added, however, that there should be an effort to leave less money “on the table” when it comes to the city providing its own direct assistance to Lebanon’s needy residents.

“I certainly have the expectation that our city staff will be working with your agencies closely so that we’re not shirking our duty as well,” Cormen said, “So hopefully that’s where some of that money is.”

In New Hampshire, the municipality is the welfare provider of last resort, but in Lebanon, much of the money earmarked for that purpose has gone unspent in recent years. In 2011, the city spent only $20,581 of $101,700 set aside for direct subsidies to low-income residents in the form of food, utilities, heat, rent, and medical assistance.

Roberta Berner, executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, told the City Council that she was surprised when she looked at the budget for the agency’s latest fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.

“Those numbers have changed very dramatically,” Berner said, who added that the agency served 142 more people in that year than in the previous year.

“This is huge,” Berner said. “These are huge increases, and I think it reflects the efforts of older people to live on fixed incomes, and stretch those fixed incomes as far as they will go.”

Suellen Griffin, president of West Central Behavorial Health, said that the families the agency works with are “in crisis more than they’ve ever been,” adding that the agency treats about about 200 of the city’s children.

“We’re not quite sure what all the contributing factors are, but it’s not decreasing as we expected it would,” said Griffin. “It’s peaked, but it’s stayed there, and it puts increasing demand on our therapists and our families.”

Christina Lorrey, an administrator at the Lebanon-based HIV/HCV Resource Center, said that the agency has been under increased strain from cuts in state funding.

“The state of New Hampshire is no longer funding any prevention or education at all,” she said.

Joie Finley Morris, a program coordinator for Tri-County CAP — a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that provides an array of social services — said that her agency began receiving applications for fuel and electric assistance earlier than normal.

She said the agency serves a population that includes single mothers and elderly people on fixed incomes, and that the households that utilize Tri-County CAP are below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is just under $35,000 for a family of four.

“These are the poor people that live in our community, and it’s our job to help them get by month to month without freezing to death, frankly,” said Finley Morris.

The city of Lebanon contributes funding to the Visiting Nurse Alliance, the Grafton County Senior Citizens Center, Headrest, LISTEN Community Services, Hannah House, WISE, HIV-HCV Resource Center, West Central Behaviorial Health, Tri-County CAP and Good Beginnings of Sullivan County.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.