Orphaned Community Groups Sing The Budget-cut Blues

Neall Can Expectopposition To Proposed Grant Allocations

May 12, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Don't tug on Superman's cape. Don't spit in the wind. Don't pull themask off the old Lone Ranger. And don't mess with people's communitypromotion grants.

County Executive Robert R. Neall will learn this week how fiercely his constituents oppose his budget proposal to cut 25 percent from grass-roots groups.

Consider how Annapolis businessman George Phelps reacted to news that the proposed fiscal 1992 budget does not continue county supportfor restoring the 19th-century Brewer Hill Cemetery, a historic cityburial ground for blacks.

"They gave us $2,000 (in 1991), but that wasn't nothing," he said Friday. "I wonder if they're handling us as African-Americans any differently from other people."

Phelps, who heads Phelps ProtectionSystems and served on Neall's transition team, was quick to add: "We're trying to do this diplomatically. I thinkwe have a pretty good man there now who'll be sensitive to the needsof all people."

Neall will need a lot of diplomacy Thursday afternoon when the County Council considers the budget for the Office of the County Executive, which administers direct county grants to 43 community programs. A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 that night incouncil chambers.

In a $616.6 million budget, the community grants are one of the few spending categories not supported by the state or federal governments or special county revenues like development impact fees or sewer and water fees.

Republican Neall wants to cut less than

$800,000 from spending levels he inherited from Democrat O. James Lighthizer.

Some departments will get more, some less. Neall's own office would lose $843,790 of the more than $7.4 million appropriated this year.

Almost half -- $386,750 -- would come form the community promotions program, which took one of the hardest hits incounty government.

The promotions cuts are helping budget planners adjust for an $8.8 million shortfall in revenues expected this yearand a $6.4 million decline predicted in 1992.

"We had to take themoney out of something, and this is one area in a difficult year that can be downsized," assistant budget officer Steven Welkos said Friday.

There is no apparent pattern to the community grant cuts, Phelps' concern to the contrary.

Neall asked for $10,000 for the annual Kunta Kinte Festival honoring slaves who were shipped through Annapolis. The black heritage celebration is one of only two groups favored in 1992 that t weren't on the 1991 grant list.

One of the biggest increases in a year of cuts would go to the Community Action Agency, a private social services umbrella group. Neall wants to boost its county support from $326,650 to $340,000.

"It is going to help us tremendously," said agency chief executive officer Yevola Peters. "Weare overloaded for assistance requests, it seems, in response to therecession."

The county money will help the agency maintain its housing counseling programs, which aids people who can't meet their rentor risk defaulting on their mortgages.

Through matching grants, Peters said she will be able to expand the agency's Head Start program, which focuses on preschool child development.

Two of the biggestcounty cuts will be made in community beautification grants and small-scale environmental projects.

The first is a favorite target of tax-reform advocates and political candidates, but the latter is cherished as a high-profile response to neighborhood concerns.

Some groups did not apply for new grants. But the random nature of the cuts could pit some communities against each other as they argue why one group is up and another down.

For example, Neall proposesgiving First Night Annapolis $5,000 to support the second year of the group's family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration in the city.

"Last year,we were a brand new organization producing a brand new event," co-executive director Elizabeth Welch said. "First Night was obviously a major success that appealed to a broad cross-section of the county."

The alcohol-free celebration of the county's arts community wasoffered as an alternative to the traditional revelry that leaves many people depressed or dead on the highways, she said.

But Larry Thomas,a board member of the Deale Area Business Council, wants to know whyhis three-year old group lost its $3,000 grant, which helped launch an annual celebration of the maritime community.

"I'm going to fight for it. It brings recognition to the Chesapeake Bay, Anne Arundel County and the Deale area," said Thomas, who owns Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing & Charters.

The town is at the southeastern tip of the county, making its residents the "lost and forgotten puppies," he said.

"North County and Central County get everything and South Countydoesn't get a damn thing," Thomas said. "So we've got to speak up."

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