- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Three county commissioners made the decision to cut local funding to “noncounty agencies” — organizations that are not part of St. Mary’s County government. Now most of those noncounty agencies have formed a coalition called Vital Community Connectors in hopes of raising community awareness, and therefore commissioner awareness, of the work they do.
The aim is to secure funding from local government.
The operating budget for St. Mary’s County government right now is $201 million, not counting unused fund balances. Nonprofit, noncounty agencies were granted $1,343,355, which is a reduction of $108,898 or 7.5 percent from the year before. The highest amount given to these agencies in recent years was $1,755,728 four years ago.
“We’re small businesses. We do charitable things. Some of us do cultural things. Some of us do educational things,” said Joe Anderson, president of the Greenwell Foundation Board of Trustees and chair of the board of governors of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. “It’s a perspective a lot of people don’t think about.”
There are at least 20 organizations in the coalition so far, ranging from St. Mary’s Caring (a soup kitchen), Historic Sotterley, the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, Walden/Sierra, the Greenwell Foundation, The Arc of Southern Maryland and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.
“Individually we kind of ran out of ideas on how to make our case,” said Bob Randall, treasurer of the Greenwell Foundation. The group, which supports activities at Greenwell State Park in Hollywood, requested $42,000 from the county commissioners last year and received $30,000.
In the past, representatives from these agencies would individually meet with commissioners and speak during the limited time available at the annual public hearings on the budgets.
The new coalition’s message is that all of the groups work toward the quality of life in St. Mary’s, and each dollar from local government can be used to leverage as much as $10 more from other sources, Randall said.
“The continuation of that funding — we can’t leverage other funds without it,” Anderson said.
These groups use funds from county government to secure matching grants, often hold fundraisers and are usually bolstered by volunteers.
Department of Defense officials take into account the kind of public facilities a community has to support a military installation like Patuxent River Naval Air Station, like adequate roads and schools. But the environment that military base employees are sent to is an important factor as well, he said. “They all are important to sustaining the quality of life in the community,” he said.
Historic Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood has eight employees at the moment, said Executive Director Nancy Easterling, but the number of volunteers “is a huge component.” The pool of approximately 160 volunteers give more than 15,000 hours of work a year there. “The amount of volunteer hours is profound, it’s huge,” she said.
Sotterley requested $75,000 from the county commissioners last year and received $60,000.
Volunteering with these organizations comes with other benefits, Easterling said. “These are people that come and feel that they’re part of the community.”
“It’s a wonderful way to meet other great, wonderful people,” said Dana McGarity, director of St. Mary’s Caring. “You can’t really put a price on it.” St. Mary’s Caring requested $5,000 from the county commissioners and received $3,000.
The coalition members said they would work to support one another’s bids for county funding. “There’s not one of us we consider more important than the other,” McGarity said. Even after this year’s upcoming budget cycle is over, “I don’t think the group is going away,” Anderson said. “We can support each other’s efforts.”
The current level of $1,343,355 is not enough, Randall said.
“It’s such a small percentage” of the county budget, Easterling said.
Budget requests from noncounty agencies are due to county government by Feb. 8. “The best way to get an acknowledgement from the commissioners is for the community to let them know,” Anderson said, there is support for these funding requests.
The noncounty groups will make their pitch for funding, but the general public needs to weigh in, too, said Anderson, a former county commissioner. “It’s not their money,” he said of the commissioners. “They’re stewards of the money.”