United Way agrees to pact

The Baltimore Sun

After months of quiet talks with Howard County leaders, the United Way of Central Maryland has made changes designed to calm complaints about the organization's funding cuts to some nonprofit organizations serving Baltimore and five surrounding counties.

The agreement revealed yesterday comes after threats in April by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman to withdraw his government from the United Way of Central Maryland and form a rival group. The plan increases the money controlled by local volunteer boards and adds a review by social services officials of spending decisions.

While the changes are intended to give community leaders more say in how contributions are disbursed, they won't affect funding allocations already made. Several officials at nonprofit groups said they were skeptical that the agreement would help their agencies.

Stan A. Levi, executive director of Family and Children's Services, said yesterday that he sees no substitute for the $500,000 his regional agency lost. "We're going to have a deficit, and we're scampering to fill that void," he said.

But Ulman said he was pleased with the agreement.

"I feel like they have listened and understand what our concerns were," he said. "I think an immediate change is having a voice within their process. Having a more significant voice was the driving factor behind all of this."

Larry E. Walton, director of United Way of Central Maryland, said his organization won't waver from the four social goals - basic needs, family safety, school readiness and youth achieving potential - set last fall that led to the funding changes. Walton has pointed out that overall United Way funding remained unchanged and that many agencies are getting more money.

As part of the agreement, the United Way will create a partnership board - about 20 volunteers who advise the central board of local needs - for Baltimore City, where the central board has performed that function.

Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties already have such boards.

Ulman called for reform after the United Way substantially cut the funding of some agencies, causing their leaders to besiege him with requests for county money to fill the gap. The United Way is distributing $10.5 million regionally over a 30-month period to 47 nonprofits.

"We sat down with our volunteers and looked at how we could put more money into services not only in Howard but in all five surrounding counties," Walton said.

The changes were produced by a committee made up of Howard County leaders and United Way representatives. They are:

Local partnership boards will get a larger percentage of contributions made by employees at businesses newly recruited into the United Way campaign.

A discretionary grant fund controlled by the partnership boards will be increased for one year. In Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, each fund will go to $76,000 from $38,000. In Carroll and Harford, each fund will go to $60,000 each from $23,000. Baltimore City will get a $76,000 one-year grant fund.

Directors of social services departments in the city and the five counties will be invited to comment on plans to distribute funds each time new decisions are made.

"When you look at Howard County right now, we have less than 20 percent of the businesses that employ 50 or more people participating," Walton said. "If we can take that number up to 40 percent, that would produce significant new dollars. We're hoping these incentives will provide a reason to step up and do this."

Under the plan, local partnership boards will get for three years a share of money contributed by employees at companies new to the United Way campaign.

In a company's first year, 75 percent of undesignated money - funds not directed to a specific nonprofits - is to go to the local boards. The percentage will decline 25 percent each succeeding year until year four, when United Way's central fund will get all the money. Currently, 50 percent of a new firm's undesignated contributions goes to the local board for a year.

"One thing we were very clear about, we didn't want any negative impacts on Baltimore City," said Susan Rosenbaum, Howard County's director of citizen services, who was on the committee.

Several nonprofit executives whose agencies lost United Way funding said they were not told of the changes. "I haven't heard a thing," said Dawn Fisk Thomsen, chief executive officer of the YWCA of Greater Baltimore.

Thomsen said she met yesterday with Baltimore officials to try to save three homeless shelters containing 73 beds for women and children in the Y's building on West Franklin Street. The shelters are to close Oct. 1 because of the loss of funding.

The YWCA lost 16 percent of its annual funding because of cuts from United Way and federal and state programs, she said.

Levi said Family and Children's Services is trying to find money to keep open Park Heights Family Support Center in the 4200 block of Park Heights Ave. in Baltimore. Levi said his agency received an 18-month grant from the Weinberg Foundation, but the money will run out by July 1 next year.

The Boy Scouts also sustained funding cuts that Steve Bortz, director of finance, said are crimping operations - especially in the city.

"We cannot grow Scouting in Baltimore City as aggressively as we'd like to," he said, noting that United Way money pays for uniforms and other expenses some Scouts can't afford. The Boy Scouts get $100,000 a year less now from United Way than in 2002, he said.

Richard M. Krieg, president and CEO of the Columbia-based Horizon Foundation, participated in the talks and praised Ulman for United Way's response. "I think it's a very significant step in the right direction," he said.larry.carson@baltsun.com

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