Bennington nonprofits now need to petition for funding
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | November 05,2012
BENNINGTON — Nonprofits requesting money from voters on Town Meeting Day in March will face another change in the process which will require some to seek enough signatures to earn a place on the ballot every year and all to turn in petitions every three years.
The Select Board voted unanimously at its Oct. 22 meeting to change its policy regarding nonprofits and their funding requests. All agencies asking for more than $7,500 will need to submit a petition with signatures every year. Any agency asking for less only needs to submit a petition every three years.
Prior to the new policy, nonprofit agencies could keep their spot on the ballot every year as long as their request had been approved the prior year and they weren’t asking for more money.
The change was proposed by Select Board member Jason Morrissey who said he thought there was a difference between small nonprofits and larger nonprofits which he called “some $4 million a year businesses.”
Select Board member Greg Van Houten said he thought the donation of municipal tax money, as approved by the voters, was part of the “social contract (for) ... the greater good.” Van Houten said some nonprofits served a need that would fall to the town or the state if the nonprofit didn’t exist and the ballot funding requests were a painless way for residents to provide funding.
Morrissey said he thought it was unfair to force a taxpayer to support a nonprofit because of a vote by the majority of voters.
“I don’t think the negation of $10,000 from somebody’s budget would bring collapse upon, no offense to whoever used the term, the social contract we have to provide these services. ... (The Center for Restorative Justice) lost on the ballot last year. They’re still there. If they weren’t there, I suspect there are other organizations that might sprout and do similar work,” he said.
The Select Board’s policy on funding requests for nonprofits have changed several times over the last few years as some Select Board members, Morrissey and Justin Corcoran among the most vocal, have complained that the agency requests are driving up the budget. The agencies are on the town meeting ballot and voters can vote them up or down, but there are concerns that agencies are approved every year without taxpayers understanding the impact.
This year, voters rejected a first-time funding request from WBTN-AM, which is Bennington’s only local radio station, and a request by the Center for Restorative Justice which has been on the ballot for many years.
Previous changes to the policy included removing the nonprofits from the general fund, which allowed voters to weigh in on each one individually, and a requirement that an agency that had been on the ballot before and passed would not have to submit a petition unless there was a request for more money.
The most recent change means all nonprofits requesting funding will have to submit petitions regularly, either every year or every three years.
For this year’s town meeting, four agencies would have been required to submit petitions, the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless, the Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice, the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging and Bennington Project Independence.
The new policy could have a bigger effect for 2013, however. In January, the Select Board asked all the agencies requesting funding to take a voluntary cut of 10 percent but at the Oct. 22 meeting, board members agreed the request was a “one-time thing.”
If they go back to the amount for which they were approved in 2011, the Green Mountain Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, the Tutorial Center and BROC would also be affected.
Voters approved $99,720 in funding appropriations this year.