Social services stretch to limit Nonprofit groups try to be less dependent on county's funding

March 23, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

A year ago, many of Carroll County's private social services programs were fighting for survival as the Board of County Commissioners considered deep budget cuts to balance a $5 million deficit.

Public outcry and a last-minute tax increase kept the providers afloat, but the narrowly averted crisis has left a lasting impression.

At a county budget hearing last week, officials from nonprofit groups told the commissioners that they've stretched their resources to the limit during the past year and have worked to become less reliant on county money.

They said the county's spending proposal for fiscal 1998, which begins July 1, maintains "level funding" for private nonprofits over the next five years, guaranteeing a continued struggle to provide services.

"[Level funding] makes it very difficult to maintain a competitive agency when you can't give good staff even little raises," said Sandra L. Rappeport, Carroll County district director of Family and Children's Services, one of the agencies hit hardest agencies last year.

Jo Ann Hare, director of Rape Crisis Intervention Service, echoed Rappeport's sentiments.

"Level funding is hard for us to retain skilled staff," she said. "I've lost two important members of my team in the last 12 months."

Despite the county's 27-cent property tax increase last year, the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center -- run by Family and Children's Services -- lost 45 percent of its funding. The reduced budget led to staff cuts and the elimination of some counseling services.

Rappeport said the agency is slowly starting to rebuild its program.

"We've spent the year aggressively going after new grants and we have shifted our focus away from county support," she said.

Rappeport asked commissioners for an extra $4,000, in addition to the $136,830 in county money allocated to the agency in the 1998 budget proposal. Saying she had "cut administration to the bone," Rappeport said the money would be used to hire clerical help and handle a computer problem.

She said the domestic violence counseling unit of Family and Children's Services has experienced a 17 percent increase in clients during the past year, creating a waiting list for counseling services for the first time in the program's 20-year history. The program has treated 348 clients this year, compared with 297 at the same time last year.

Rappeport said several grant applications to provide more domestic violence counseling services have been denied.

"We're a kind of rural, kind of suburban county, and we look really well-off compared to other areas, like Baltimore City," she said.

Hare of Rape Crisis told commissioners that her agency has taken steps to reduce its dependence on county money by seeking other funding sources. The recommended $50,640 allocation of county money for fiscal 1998 accounts for 37 percent of the agency's budget.

"We're working really hard to be fiscally responsible," she said. "This year for the first time we produced an annual report."

Hare asked commissioners for an unspecified amount of additional money to hire part-time administrative staff to assist with grant applications.

"Untreated sexual trauma in children costs the county money," she said. "The victims are more likely to have alcohol and drug problems."

Kathleen Burrows, director of the Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, told the commissioners in her budget presentation that the agency is relying "less and less" on government money to fund its operations. The county's fiscal 1998 budget proposal would allocate $329,020 to the agency, which provides counseling services to children and families, parent education programs and crisis intervention.

Burrows requested an emergency county allocation of $11,000 through the end of the current fiscal year to serve more than 60 families on the agency's waiting list. Burrows said the planned closing of the Health Department's mental health bureau is partially responsible for the unusually large list.

During the past week, she said her agency has received eight client referrals from the department.

"We don't need a lot of money to make a dent in that waiting list," Burrows said.

Among the services administered by Human Services Programs, director Sylvia Canon said, the Safe Haven shelter is the busiest. The shelter is designed for the severely mentally ill and substance abusers.

"We're trying to keep them off [Westminster's] Main Street," Canon said. "There were a lot of folks that used to live under the bridge on Route 140, and they're not there anymore, for the most part."

The county's 1998 budget proposal included $387,640 for Human Services Programs.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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