June 10, 2007

ISSUE: -- After his $3.17 million in cuts to nonprofit agencies brought a backlash, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold announced last week a partnership with the state to train the charities, arts organizations and community groups in obtaining private funding.

Responding to a request from Anne Arundel County leaders, Gov. Martin O'Malley's grants office has agreed to offer classes and invite nonprofits to a statewide conference in September on ways to target private and foundation funding sources and how to manage the money.

Leopold, who cut grant funding to 49 nonprofits in his fiscal 2008 budget from $5 million to $1.7 million, has said they should prepare for less government assistance, given an uncertain budget outlook.

After his cuts were met with outrage from the nonprofits' supporters, Leopold and the County Council agreed to restore $815,000, and the council approved the $1.44 billion budget Thursday.

Should nonprofits learn to become more self-sufficient and pursue private funding, or is it incumbent upon the local government to support the efforts of these charitable organizations?

Government funds not necessary

While I can understand the disappointment of supporters of nonprofits whose government funding was slashed, I can't help but think that if these groups were genuinely of use to the community, and not merely "pets" of the upper crust, then the community would support them and government funding would be a small and, if it were withdrawn, unmissed portion of their budget.

The only possible exception to this that I can think of is providing for homeless people, where subsidizing shelters and other parts of their support system is a genuine public service.

It is not government's responsibility to provide the bulk of funding for nonprofit organizations which, except for their status, would otherwise be poorly-thought-out commercial ventures.

Michael Calo Glen Burnie

Plan will serve county well

An overarching goal of my administration has been to build a foundation of trust so taxpayers know that the money they take out of their family budget to fund government services is used frugally and not subject to waste.

Our county government grant program, which provides tax dollars to private and quasi-private organizations, should be subject to the same test of fiscal responsibility as applied to all other county spending. This program had ballooned in recent years, reaching nearly five million dollars last year. As stated in a recent Washington Post editorial regarding the grants program in the District of Columbia, "there is an inherent unfairness in a system that neither advertises the availability of public money nor requires competition for it. "Equally troublesome," the editorial stated, "is that there is little requirement for accountability."

A reform process will be implemented in Anne Arundel County in collaboration with the governor's Grants Office. In addition to surveying other jurisdictions for best practices, we will be providing training to help nonprofit organizations develop and implement outcome measurements. These groups will also receive assistance in grant writing techniques for success.

Unfortunately, while the grant program needs are infinite, resources are finite, and not all worthy causes can or should be supported by taxpayers.

I am confident that this plan will serve us well, not only this year but as we face the looming fiscal demands posed by potential state reductions in aid to local jurisdictions.

John R. Leopold County executive

Government funds aren't infinite

The government is not an entity with interminably deep pockets. In fact, it is nothing more than the collective wealth of the citizenry. And the diverse citizenry of in this county has a wide variety of priorities, not to mention that many families are not in a financial position to fund superfluous programs, many of which are redundant with existing county government programs.

We have nonprofit groups that cater to legal and illegal immigrants. And we have a wide variety of arts programs whose passionate supporters view the arts as a critical function of government.

But we also have just as many folks who view as among our highest national priorities the deportation of illegal immigrants, folks who would not want to fund programs "catering to criminals," and many residents who view the arts as a luxury they can ill-afford.

Can anyone, with a straight face, tell a middle-class county family whose utmost concern is trying to scrape together enough money to feed and clothe their children, pay their BGE bill and put gas in their cars that they should be setting aside a portion of their income to fund an art program in Severna Park or Annapolis? Or that they should be funding programs that reach out to folks who are in this country illegally?

It's ludicrous, but that's exactly what some supporters of these nonprofits are suggesting.

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