At a time when more charities are asking for more money, County Executive Robert R. Neall has cut in half the county's contribution to 57 civic and charitable organizations.
County officials have earmarked only $400,000 for 57 charitable, community and arts groups in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Last year, the county gave out $808,910 to groups such as the Anne Arundel County Historical Society (which received $11,750), the county food bank ($35,000) and Historic Annapolis ($50,000).
Neall's budget divides the groups into two sub-categories: one for the Community Action Agency, which provides an array of services and works closely with county officials, and the other for the 57 charities and civic groups seeking funds.
The CAA was the only agency to win a promise for the same amount it received last year -- $334,000.
But that leaves the remaining 57 groups -- which last year had $808,910 -- vying for a $400,000 pot. Together, they are asking for $1.5 million. Last year, 49 groups received $1.1 million.
"When times are tough, the first place you have to cut is the grant recipients," said Dennis H. Parkinson, county administrative officer. "Basically, that amount is our judgment of how much we can afford."
But spokesman for the charities say that the money is needed now more than ever.
"Our donations are way down," said Shirley Carson, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc.
The organization last year received $15,000 to fund a $60,000 respite home in Linthicum, where the developmentally disabled can stay overnight to give their families a break from caring for them. This year, the group is requesting $25,000 to make up for a loss of private donations.
"There's a tremendous need out there," Carson said.
The grants were discussed by the County Council Thursday as part of its review of the budget for the county executive's office, which includes grants to community groups.
For the first time, Neall's budget proposal includes an open-ended $400,000 allocation for community organizations. In years past, exact amounts were always earmarked to specific groups in the executive's budget.
Budget officer Steven H. Welkos said the amounts were left open to give council members say in how much each group will receive.
But council members said that put them in the position of approving an overall amount during the budget deliberations without knowing where it was going to be spent.
"It's kind of a blank check for $400,000 and that's not something we normally do," said Councilwoman Virginia Clagett.
Council is due to make decision on the budget by May 30.
Parkinson said he also plans to tighten up county requirements for groups receiving grants. His proposal would require charitable groups to submit to county audits and report how much they receive form other sources.