Proposed Rock County 2018 budget would eliminate funding for four nonprofits

Nonprofits had received funding in previous years
Proposed Rock County 2018 budget would eliminate funding for four nonprofits

Four nonprofits serving Rock County will have to find new ways to fund certain programs after the county’s proposed 2018 budget took away money the organizations had previously received.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said he made the decision to eliminate the funding after Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a formal opinion in September stating county boards only have authority to provide funds for services explicitly listed in state statutes .

“One thing to understand is counties are administrative arms of the state,” Smith said. “So we can only do what the state allows us to do.”

Smith said he planned on funding the nonprofits until the attorney general released his opinion.

“Ultimately, I felt it was kind of a slippery slope to make a decision to ignore something that was sort of legal authority and put ourselves in a position of potentially being sued if somebody wanted to do that,” Smith said.

The four nonprofits that Smith recommended not to receive funding are HealthNet of Rock County, United Way Blackhawk Region, Rock Valley Community Programs and NeighborWorks.

According to the proposed budget , HealthNet had requested $57,867 to offset costs associated with the clinic’s nursing positions, case management positions, patient supplies and rent. Smith said the same amount was provided in 2017.

“I think it’s very important for our clients and for the patients that we serve that this funding come through for them for this year,” HealthNet CEO Ian Hedges said.

Hedges said the free clinic served about 1,500 patients last year who were low-income, uninsured or underinsured. He said if the funding is eliminated, it would affect about 386 patients. HealthNet has received county funding since 1994, according to Hedges.

“We have been working together to try to come up with a solution or work around for that, but there has been no progress on that front whatsoever due to a lot of external factors,” Hedges said about working with the county administration.

Smith said the county was looking at the possibility of contracting with the nonprofits as a way to continue providing funding.

“The challenge there will be not only finding what sorts of units that we can buy from them but then fitting those purchases in with the other priorities of the county,” Smith said.

Hedges is hopeful something can be worked out for the 2018 budget.

“We want to be responsive to our community’s needs, and we want to make sure that everybody is at the table and talking to make sure we can get this done as soon as possible,” he said. “The budget isn’t closed, as of yet. It is still amendable. So we hope that it is amended to reflect that healthcare is a priority for our county.”

The United Way Blackhawk Region had requested $4,000 to fund its 211 information line, which is a 24/7 hotline that provides information to Rock County residents regarding housing, health care, food, mental health and utility assistance.

Mary Fanning-Penny, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said it answered nearly 3,000 calls in 2016 and estimates more calls in 2017.

Fanning-Penny said the county helped fund the service for five years and the organization would now start looking at different ways to fund the program.

Rock Valley Community Programs had requested $60,755 for the Alternative Service Program, which arranges community service opportunities for people instead of jail or fines. Smith said the county provided the same amount in 2017.

The nonprofit also requested $12,750 for the Residential Re-Entry Program, which used the funds to buy clothing, medication and bus passes for people in RVCP’s residential program transitioning back into the community after being released from prison. The same amount was also provided in 2017, according to Smith.

He said funds that were originally allocated to RVCP were redirected to the Evidence Based Decision Making account and will be used to provide similar justice system programming.

Smith said he met with judges and the Rock County sheriff on Tuesday morning to discuss different ways to continue to provide community service programs because the county funded the

“We’ve figured out a different way to provide community service, so the sheriff is going to provide that through the current Workender program that we fund,” Smith said.

According to the budget, NeighborWorks had requested $1,200 to offset costs of providing a first-time homebuyer program, which was the same amount as 2017.

Under the proposed budget, nine programs through seven nonprofits would receive funding totaling $120,443. In 2017, the county provided $248,015 to 14 programs in 11 organizations.

“The county has been generous over the years,” Smith said. “A quarter-million dollars provided to nonprofits in the community is not a small amount of money, in my opinion.”

The groups that will receive funding are Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, YWCA of Rock County, Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Heritage Rock County, Rock County Tourism Council and Rock County 4-H Board.

According to the budget, all the programs received the same amount of funding as 2017 except the YWCA and CASA. Both nonprofits received more funding their programs.

“The work that they do for us is really very valuable and so supporting that, I think, is something that everyone can agree on,” Smith said.

The county board will look over and adopt the budget in November.