Nonprofits face cash cutbacks

Published 12:59 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Joey Toler, executive director of the Beaufort County Arts Council, discusses possible funding cuts Tuesday at BCAC’s offices in Washington. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Leaders of local nonprofits predicted serious consequences for their organizations after the Beaufort County commissioners tentatively voted to cut funding for some outside entities.

In nonbinding “straw votes” last week, a majority of the commissioners voted to eliminate funding for groups including the Beaufort County Arts Council and the Literary Volunteers of Beaufort County.

“If the county does follow through and eliminate all funding for the arts council, the most direct impact is going to be on the programs we offer in the community,” said Joey Toler, BCAC’s executive director.

The cuts also targeted the Food Bank of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. The food bank received $1,000 from Beaufort County in the current fiscal year.

Eagle’s Wings, a Washington-based food pantry, helps feed hundreds of needy people in a year’s time.

In December 2010, Sally Love, executive director of Eagle’s Wings, said the local pantry gets its food through the Albemarle food bank.

Thanks to the food bank, Eagle’s Wings can purchase a pound of goods for 19 cents, or 50 pounds of food for around $10, Love said at the time.

The commissioners also opted to nix money for the Washington Community Care Coalition, which feeds needy people in the Washington area.

WCCC got $2,500 from the county in the present fiscal year.

Last week’s informal “straw votes” provided further budget-crafting instructions to County Manager Paul Spruill.

The votes were taken during a special meeting to discuss the county spending plan for fiscal year 2011-2012.

Toler said the commissioners’ proposed subtraction of $17,000 for the arts council could cost a part-time staff position, reduce staff hours and affect programming.

The arts council provides arts programs for such events as Bath Fest and the Aurora Fossil Festival, and does outreach programming in the county’s towns and at public libraries, Toler pointed out.

“All of these efforts were funded with county money,” he said.

The arts council typically has an annual budget of around $200,000, and roughly 70 to 80 percent of that money is spent directly on programming or on staff hours tied to programming, Toler related.

Toler argued arts programs are a form of economic development.

He cited 2008 N.C. Arts Council data showing that each dollar invested in arts grants brings a return of almost $16.

“We are an economic engine in this county,” he said. “We bring something to the table.”

Pat Lurvey, a Literacy Volunteers board member, said the LVBC’s stalled $2,500 in county funding “would hurt us pretty badly.”

“We really, really need that money from the county commissioners because it is basically money for operating expenses,” Lurvey said.

The Literacy Volunteers provide adult tutoring services to residents of Beaufort County.

Unrestricted funds from the county have been used to pay office rent and the LVBC’s one, part-time staff member, Lurvey explained.

“Of course in the economic climate we’re in, it’s hard to raise money,” she said.

Despite criticism from Commissioner Hood Richardson, the literacy volunteers have certified to the county that they don’t serve people who are in the United States illegally, Lurvey related.

“I don’t know exactly how he ever came up with that,” she said of Richardson.

Toler said he had spoken with Commissioners Al Klemm and Stan Deatherage about the funding issue, adding he iterated his view of the arts council as an asset to the county economy.

Klemm said the budget is still under review.

“The straw vote is just part of the process and doesn’t necessarily indicate how things are going to turn out,” he said.

Asked whether he would vote to strip nonprofits of their funding a second time, Klemm said, “To be perfectly honest I would think so.”

“Times are tough, and when times are tough you’ve got to be a little more conservative than usual in what you’re doing,” he concluded.

Deatherage couldn’t be reached for comment immediately.