Cut in county grants decried

Leopold defends $3.17 million cut to nonprofits as necessary

May 06, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,[Sun Reporter]

Facing a barrage of criticism about slashing $3.17 million in grants to local nonprofits, County Executive John R. Leopold said it was necessary because the local legislative delegation would not support his proposal to tax rental cars.

"There were many worthy causes, and if I would have got my rental tax through, we would have been able to provide more money," Leopold said in an interview Friday. "The political reality I must work within in this county is that even a tax on out-of-state residents was met with stiff resistance."

The tax would have generated an estimated $5 million for the county, primarily because so many people rent cars at BWI Marshall Airport in Linthicum; his proposal in February met with resistance at the state level by transportation officials and some local delegates.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Anne Arundel section incorrectly reported that County Executive John R. Leopold budgeted $200,000 in the Department of Health budget for colonoscopies for low-income men. They are for men and women. The Sun regrets the error.

Members of Anne Arundel County's local delegation expressed surprise at Leopold's comments, saying that questions about the constitutionality of the bill and the complications for rental-car companies were among several reasons the delegation decided not to support the bill.

"I find it astounding that he's blaming the General Assembly," said Del. Robert A. Costa, a Deale Republican, "especially since some of those grants have such a dramatic impact on the community."

Added Del. Tony McConkey, a Severna Park Republican: "It's fair for him to say, but there are many reasons the car tax didn't go anywhere."

Leopold, a Republican and former delegate who took office in December, continued to defend cutting most, if not all, of the county funding to 42 nonprofits in the $1.44 billion fiscal 2008 budget he released Tuesday. He said the 123 percent increase in the past four years to $5 million was unreasonable and that some of the money had been doled out as "political handouts." Others saw drastic decreases because they had previously received large grants for capital projects, he said.

The funding for Opportunity Builders Inc., which provides training and jobs to people with developmental disabilities, was cut from $300,000 to $5,000. Annapolis Area Ministries, a nonprofit agency that runs the Light House Shelter in Annapolis, saw its funding reduced from $400,000 to $10,000; it is seeking to build a $6.5 million homeless shelter near Parole.

Among others, the funding dropped from $350,000 to $50,000 for the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County; from $150,000 to $100,000 for the county food bank; and from $85,000 to $25,000 for the YWCA.

The cuts have drawn various reactions from the heads of agencies affected, with some giving Leopold credit for warning them ahead of time and others condemning his decisions.

Joseph Gill, chairman of Annapolis Area Ministries' board of directors, said the agency had requested $250,000 from the county this year.

"He was forthright with us in terms of the budget situation he thought he was facing," Gill said. "Whether or not I would have made the budget [the same way], I don't know that."

Still, Gill said his agency turned away 408 adults and 110 children at the shelter last year and needs a new shelter to provide for the region's homeless population.

"A budget is a moral document," he said. "It reflects a government's priorities."

Vicki Callahan, executive director of Opportunity Builders, said her agency had been told to pare down its request from last year. That money was put toward the planned construction of a $10.5 million headquarters.

Callahan said the $100,000 she sought this year would not have been for the day-to-day operations of the agency but is still needed.

"As I see it, the people we support are some of the most vulnerable in Anne Arundel County," Callahan said.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Piney Orchard Democrat, criticized Leopold's decisions and comments Friday, saying that reducing funding to nonprofits would be detrimental to county residents.

"This is an incredibly important part of the budget," Benoit said.

Said Carl O. Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist and aide for former County Executive Janet S. Owens: "To argue that these cuts of grants that support retarded citizens and victims of domestic violence are necessary is going to be hard to sell to the general public."

He criticized the county executive for stripping the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast of $5,000.

Leopold, however, said that funding for the event had been shifted to another part of the budget. Snowden said he welcomed it but questioned why no one in county government had informed organizers.

Leopold also said he has elected to increase funding for social service programs that are directly overseen by the county to ensure the money is well-spent. For example, he budgeted $200,000 in the Department of Health budget for colonoscopies for low-income men.

Benoit and other County Council members said they are open to discussing where cuts might be made to the county's proposed $1.2 billion budget to find funding for some of the cut programs. The council must pass a budget by May 31.

"There are definitely some organizations that need the money to carry out services which are critical in this county, and there [are] others that may not be so critical," said Ronald C. Dillon Jr., council chairman. "We need to sit down with our auditor and find out where there is money available."

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