Coping with the cuts

Published 1:46 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nonprofits deal with the reality of less funding in 2011-2012

Leaders of some nonprofits and outside agencies saw their county funding reduced or eliminated by the Beaufort County commissioners in a budget vote this week.

A number of these leaders said they will continue to operate their organizations as efficiently as possible, though the cuts could lead to changes in services or programs.

In initial, informal “straw votes” taken as they waded through County Manager Paul Spruill’s recommended spending plan for fiscal year 2011-2012, a majority of the commissioners moved to pull funding for a handful of nonprofits that receive money from the county.

For a while it appeared the largest single nonprofit funding reduction would be to the Beaufort County Arts Council, which would have seen its county money slashed from $17,000 to zero dollars in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The arts council offers visual-arts programming, including free-to-the-public gallery shows, and supports the performing arts in Beaufort County.

Joey Toler, executive director of the arts council, had predicted that losing the $17,000 could cost the arts council a staff position, reduce staff hours and affect programming.

Following a public hearing on the proposed county budget Monday, the commissioners agreed to give the arts council $10,000 – less than the $23,000 BCAC was getting from the county in recent years, and less than the $17,000 BCAC was asking for this year.

Toler will take it, just the same.

“I would have liked a lesser reduction than what we got, but $10,000 is better than zero dollars,” he said.

Though he is unsure exactly how the $7,000 cut would affect the arts council, Toler predicted the presence of less county money in the coming fiscal year might scale back BCAC’s arts support for community events such as Bath Fest, the Aurora Fossil Festival and the Belhaven Fourth of July celebration.

Toler doesn’t expect the arts council will have to lay off staff, which is comprised of one full-time employee – Toler – and two part-time employees.

The county’s cut comes on top of the N.C. General Assembly’s 15-percent reduction in grants supplied by the North Carolina Arts Council, Toler related. Some of these grants are used to support local arts entities.

With wells of public money drying up, Toler plans to sit down with the arts council’s treasurer and review the nonprofit’s budget line by line. He also hasn’t ruled out adding a fundraiser to BCAC’s schedule.

“In an ideal world, we would love to be able to maintain all of our programs and keep funding local arts groups, and funding all of the programs we’re involved with in the community, and take these cuts on the administrative side – but I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that,” he said.

Another nonprofit that fell under the commissioners’ knife was the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Located in Belhaven’s old Town Hall, this no-admission-charge museum houses an array of curiosities and historically important items, from World War II-era artifacts to antique furniture and more.

The commissioners reduced the museum’s county allocation from $2,000 to $1,000.

“Basically, what that’s doing is that’s making us go back and assess how we’re going to be able to run the museum this year,” said Butch Harris, director.

In the current fiscal year, the museum received just enough funding from the county and the Town of Belhaven to keep one employee on the payroll and buy incidentals, Harris explained.

“Basically, we were on a shoestring budget to begin with,” he said. “We’ve had to basically deal with donations of maintenance and time from individuals in the community.”

The commissioners also chose to scale back the county manager’s recommended funding for the Sidney Dive Team. Based in eastern Beaufort County, the team conducts water rescue and recovery operations in cooperation with emergency-services agencies.

The dive team will get $10,000 in the next fiscal year, down from the $15,700 Spruill called for in his recommended budget.

“We’ll still continue to do what we do,” said Steve Swain, dive chief. “We’ll just have to tighten the belt strings up.”

One nonprofit that had its full county funding restored by the commissioners was Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County, which gives tutoring help to adult, legal residents of the county. A majority of the commissioners had removed the LVBC from the budget, but the volunteer-led group’s $2,500 was tucked back into the plan before a final vote.

“We were delighted to hear that it sounds like they have restored our funding, at least at the level of last year,” said Anna Sizemore, LVBC’s part-time program coordinator and only paid employee.

The commissioners already had backed up on LVBC funding, taking it from $5,000 to $2,500, Sizemore pointed out.

Losing the $2,500 “would have radically affected us,” she said, adding LVBC’s office rent is $250 a month and that the county’s money helps pay that rent.

“I just don’t know how much fundraising a small group like ours could have done to raise that money,” she said. “These are difficult times to fundraise because everybody is running very tight. We’ve had to kick up our fundraising efforts during this last fiscal year because of the previous cut that we sustained from the commissioners.”

LVBC accepts tax-deductible donations through its office, located at 1385 John Small Ave., Washington, she said.

“I guess we’re just delighted that the funding could be restored,” Sizemore concluded.