ISSUE: -- After his $3.17 million in cuts to nonprofit agencies brought a backlash, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold announced last week a partnership with the state to train the charities, arts organizations and community groups in obtaining private funding.
Responding to a request from Anne Arundel County leaders, Gov. Martin O'Malley's grants office has agreed to offer classes and invite nonprofits to a statewide conference in September on ways to target private and foundation funding sources and how to manage the money.
Leopold, who cut grant funding to 49 nonprofits in his fiscal 2008 budget from $5 million to $1.7 million, has said they should prepare for less government assistance, given an uncertain budget outlook.
After his cuts were met with outrage from the nonprofits' supporters, Leopold and the County Council agreed to restore $815,000, and the council approved the $1.44 billion budget Thursday.
Should nonprofits learn to become more self-sufficient and pursue private funding, or is it incumbent upon the local government to support the efforts of these charitable organizations?
Government funds not necessary
While I can understand the disappointment of supporters of nonprofits whose government funding was slashed, I can't help but think that if these groups were genuinely of use to the community, and not merely "pets" of the upper crust, then the community would support them and government funding would be a small and, if it were withdrawn, unmissed portion of their budget.
The only possible exception to this that I can think of is providing for homeless people, where subsidizing shelters and other parts of their support system is a genuine public service.
It is not government's responsibility to provide the bulk of funding for nonprofit organizations which, except for their status, would otherwise be poorly-thought-out commercial ventures.
Michael Calo Glen Burnie
Plan will serve county well
An overarching goal of my administration has been to build a foundation of trust so taxpayers know that the money they take out of their family budget to fund government services is used frugally and not subject to waste.
Our county government grant program, which provides tax dollars to private and quasi-private organizations, should be subject to the same test of fiscal responsibility as applied to all other county spending. This program had ballooned in recent years, reaching nearly five million dollars last year. As stated in a recent Washington Post editorial regarding the grants program in the District of Columbia, "there is an inherent unfairness in a system that neither advertises the availability of public money nor requires competition for it. "Equally troublesome," the editorial stated, "is that there is little requirement for accountability."
A reform process will be implemented in Anne Arundel County in collaboration with the governor's Grants Office. In addition to surveying other jurisdictions for best practices, we will be providing training to help nonprofit organizations develop and implement outcome measurements. These groups will also receive assistance in grant writing techniques for success.
Unfortunately, while the grant program needs are infinite, resources are finite, and not all worthy causes can or should be supported by taxpayers.
I am confident that this plan will serve us well, not only this year but as we face the looming fiscal demands posed by potential state reductions in aid to local jurisdictions.
John R. Leopold County executive
Government funds aren't infinite
The government is not an entity with interminably deep pockets. In fact, it is nothing more than the collective wealth of the citizenry. And the diverse citizenry of in this county has a wide variety of priorities, not to mention that many families are not in a financial position to fund superfluous programs, many of which are redundant with existing county government programs.
We have nonprofit groups that cater to legal and illegal immigrants. And we have a wide variety of arts programs whose passionate supporters view the arts as a critical function of government.
But we also have just as many folks who view as among our highest national priorities the deportation of illegal immigrants, folks who would not want to fund programs "catering to criminals," and many residents who view the arts as a luxury they can ill-afford.
Can anyone, with a straight face, tell a middle-class county family whose utmost concern is trying to scrape together enough money to feed and clothe their children, pay their BGE bill and put gas in their cars that they should be setting aside a portion of their income to fund an art program in Severna Park or Annapolis? Or that they should be funding programs that reach out to folks who are in this country illegally?
It's ludicrous, but that's exactly what some supporters of these nonprofits are suggesting.
We're not a county flush with resources, and we'd never agree on what programs should be funded and which programs should have their funding cut. The safest course of action is the one that the county executive chose, which is to spend the people's money on the basic government necessities, and let each county family decide how they want to spend their disposable income.
I spent $75 at the Baltimore zoo two weekends ago. If each of Anne Arundel County's 130,000 households does the same this year, that's almost $10 million from just one county. Which is exactly how such entities ought to be funded.
Michael P. DeCicco Severn
Nonprofits should be self-sufficient
Nonprofits should definitely be almost wholly self-sufficient, and I agree with County Executive John Leopold's budget cuts to nonprofits. His budget is fiscally conservative and very responsible.
Local, state and the national governments have too much fat in their budgets. We learned as a citizenry that we can vote ourselves just about anything we want and we've become lazy and dependent on governments for our much more than our basic needs.
Reducing budgets allows the citizenry to take more control over more of their money. It provides capital to invest in businesses, which will employ more citizens, which will intern foster more consumption and investment, which will result in increased revenues, assuming tax rates remain flat.
It also allows us to make our own choices as free citizens about how our charitable contributions will be spent and it provides us with more disposable income to spend as we please in our economy.
My advice to County Executive John Leopold, and Governor Martin O'Malley for that matter, is to keep cutting!
Eric Schwartz Annapolis
Raise the bar for leadership
Becoming more self-sufficient is not just about gaining better fundraising skills. It is about raising the bar of nonprofit board governance and executive leadership.
Nonprofit organizations need to be governed by board members who truly understand their fiduciary responsibilities and are committed to the oversight of programs that measurably impact the audience addressed in their mission. Non-profit executives need to engage in the kind of professional development that develops management and leadership skills to maximize the use of every donor dollar on behalf the population they serve.
Liz Freedlander Easton
Divide nonprofits into two groups
Nonprofit organizations should be divided into two main groups: those with access to wealthier client support groups, such as the Annapolis Symphony, Opera or Ballet, and those which provide services to populations requiring the benefit of social/human services.
The first group provides a quality-of-life aspect for the community and has ability to raise funds. The second group of services is necessary for human survival ,and/or may provide incentives for life improvement.
Charitable donations to non-profits have a tax consequence, so in one sense private donations are supported by the state. I strongly feel that governments have an obligation to aid both groups. The distribution of government support should be carefully monitored by citizen oversight with the needs of the receiving organization being the major consideration for the amount distributed.
Melvin Bender Arnold
Arts groups benefit county
Nonprofit arts groups make life better for all of us. They help boost property values in Anne Arundel County because people considering a place to live might be drawn here by the rich arts scene. The county ought to pay because it benefits, and the corporate sector should also support the nonprofits because private companies also benefit.
County Executive Leopold's idea to form a partnership with the state to train arts organizations and others on how to get private funding seems a waste of time and effort. Doesn't he realize that arts groups know how to hold fundraisers and have turned begging into high art?
The problem is that most Annapolis-based groups are relying on the same pool of individual donors, who may be close to being tapped out.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Gomez Severna Park