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Nonprofits getting creative for funds

fr nonprofitfundraisingFrom charity golf tournaments to bluegrass concerts to spare change jars, nonprofits lending a helping hand with heating costs for the needy use a variety of means to get people to pitch in for the cause.

A Christmas without Santa? Not if these nonprofits can help it

For those who help the economically disadvantaged, the holiday season raises plenty of questions: how many people need help; will they receive enough donations; and how will they ensure every child in Western North Carolina has a present under the tree this year?

Macon, Haywood, Swain and Jackson counties have a slew of agencies that work together to see that everyone gets at a little something for the holidays — be it food, clothing or toys.

The stack of applications from families needing help during the holidays has doubled in recent years for Holiday Angel in Macon County, said JoAnn Hurst with Macon Program for Progress, which heads up Holiday Angel. Before the recession hit, workers had practically memorized the people who ask for help each year. But not any more.

“The names are new. The families are new,” Hurst said. “We don’t recognize them.”

More people still need help, and fewer people can afford to help.

“There are just a lot more people in need right now,” said Robert Cochran, director of Jackson County Department of Social Services. The agency has seen the number of food stamp recipients in the county double, he added.

The well-known Toys for Tots program, which has chapters across the region, has also noticed a decline in giving.

“As the economy has slowed down, we have to cut back, too,” said Randy Hughes, the area Toys for Tots coordinator.

In response, the nonprofit tries to give each child four items — down from eight in previous years, he said.

“There is still time to give,” Hughes added.

 

A coordinated effort

Thousands of needy families in the region will ultimately be matched up with gift givers, but making sure no one falls through the cracks — and that families aren’t double-dipping by applying for holiday assistance through more than one agency — takes massive coordination.

“It may be three or four agencies working to get that one family food to eat,” said JoAnn Hurst of Macon Program for Progress, a nonprofit agency.

Macon Program for Progress heads a multi-organizational program called Holiday Angel. For Macon County, it is the central point of connectivity between givers and receivers.

Those in need either know about the program or get referred to it by the Macon County Department of Social Services.

Collaboration among the government agencies and non profits helps them prevent people from falling through the cracks.

“I feel like we pretty well cover them,” Hurst said. “I don’t feel like we are (missing people) with as close as we are working with other agencies now.”

Families needing assistance file applications, with details about their income, their children, what they want and, more importantly, what they need. Once the organization verifies the information, the names are passed on to individuals or groups who want to sponsor one or multiple families.

Jackson County is more proactive than most when it comes to distributing the names of families in need of help during the holidays. Jackson social services taps its database of families receiving assistance, and with their permission, passes their names on to donors — without needy families having to formally apply.

One group that sponsors needy families in Jackson County is MedWest’s EMS team, which sponsors families every year by buying them gifts and supplying a meal.

A chapter of Toys for Tots in the region works with multiple agencies in Swain, Macon and Jackson counties to distribute between 14,000 and 18,000 toys this year.

The nonprofit collects the toys then passes them on to other charitable organizations to hand out and works with them to ensure people are not already receiving assistance from another organization.

“Our mission is to make sure that no child is left out,” Hughes said.

Haywood County’s Operation Christmas Love is one of many Western North Carolina programs that receives toys from Toys for Tots. It is a collaborative program run by Haywood Christian Ministries, with help from Haywood County DSS.

The program, which helps about 300 people each year, places trees bearing tags with children’s names as well as an item they want for Christmas at various locations in the county, including Belks, Walmart and Sagebrush Steakhouse in Waynesville.

“I think we have been very blessed this year,” said Jennifer Mason, who helps with Operation Christmas Love. “This far, I’ve not seen a decrease; so that’s been wonderful.”

Hughes said the nonprofit has received about the same number of applications for aid as last year despite requiring people to fill out the forms online.

While many agencies focus on giving children a happy holiday, kids are not the only ones in need during the holiday season. A number of organizations, including Mountain Projects in Haywood County, gather items for senior citizens who may rely solely on social security income.

Mountain Projects puts together boxes for senior citizens that include writing tablets, stamps, shampoos and lotions, among other things.

“Our goal is to make sure every senior has something for Christmas,” said Patsy Dowling, executive director of Mountain Projects. “Christmas is a really sad time for them.”

The nonprofit will be collecting donations for both children and seniors through Dec. 9.

While the deadline might seem a bit early, Dowling said Mountain Projects delivers the presents a week or two before Christmas to avoid snow, which could prevent their elves from distributing all their goods.

 

In need of help

There are so many ways to give during the holidays. Contact a nonprofit charity near you or your county department of social services to find out how you can help this holiday season.

Bryson town officials failed to keep tabs on fire department finances

Despite multiple red flags, Bryson City officials failed to provide proper oversight of the town’s volunteer fire department over the past decade, eventually leading to a State Bureau of Investigation probe of possible misappropriation by the fire chief.

An investigation by The Smoky Mountain News shows:

• For almost a decade, Bryson City leaders knew something was awry with the fire department’s finances but failed to get to the bottom of it.

• The town was afraid to confront former Fire Chief Joey Hughes, fearing he would lead a strike of the volunteer firefighters as threatened and refuse to respond to emergencies.

• The Ladies Auxiliary, the department’s fundraising arm, went unaudited, unchecked and unmonitored for years. The lack of checks and balances created an atmosphere that gave Hughes, a volunteer firefighter, virtually total control of donations to the department and community fundraising efforts.

“It took a whistleblower in this case,” said Paul Miller, executive director of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association.

Hughes is now under investigation for improperly using funds donated to the fire department. The State Bureau of Investigation is scrutinizing records collected from the department’s two secret bank accounts and Hughes’ Swain County home.

When the official investigation in the fire department’s finances began this summer, Assistant Police Chief Greg Jones found two accounts that town leaders were unaware existed — “Friends of the Firemen” at United Community Bank and “Ladies Auxiliary” at the North Carolina State Credit Union.

Checks addressed to the Bryson City Fire Department had been deposited into both accounts, according to search warrants issued for the bank records of the two fundraising arms. The confiscated documents include statements, signature cards and cancelled checks.

Investigators are trying to piece together where the money in the accounts went after that and whether any of that funding actually benefited the fire department and its firefighting efforts.

Hughes’ wife Cylena was listed on the signature card for both accounts, while Hughes, Wendy Peterson and Heather Wiggins were listed as possible signatures for the “Friends of the Firemen” account.

Investigators conducted another search of Hughes’ home on Hyatt Creek Road in Bryson City in October. Agents with the North Carolina Department of Insurance and State Bureau of Investigation seized paperwork, two computers and a collection of checks, stamps and envelopes.

Hughes Tuesday denied any wrongdoing on his part. The former fire chief said that he was the victim of dirty politics and that he’d never misused fire department funds or abused his position.

“I hope Bryson City gets a mayor from Bryson City,” Hughes said, a critical reference to Mayor Brad Walker who isn’t originally from the mountains.

Hughes blamed Walker for spreading misinformation. Hughes said that his troubles date to disagreements about equipment purchases the fire department made under Mayor Bruce Medford more than six years ago, and that Walker, as a friend of Medford’s, is simply engaging in dirty politics because of those old disagreements.

Hughes’ house has recently been put up for sale by owner.

 

In the beginning

Troubles with Hughes dates back eight to nine years ago. The former fire chief talked his fellow firemen into striking, according to a search warrant issued for the Hughes’ home.

The volunteer firefighters “threatened to close down the fire department,” Walker told The Smoky Mountain News.

Back then, town leaders told the fire department that checks made out to the Bryson City Fire Department must go through proper town accounting procedures, Walker said.

“The best I remember there were some questions about the bookkeeping — how the records were being kept,” said Alderman Kate Welch.

The town feared another strike if they made Hughes mad and, therefore, maintained a relatively hands-off approach after that — without ever getting satisfactory answers to its questions.

Around the same time, Hughes closed the existing bank accounts for its fundraising arms and opened new ones that he could control access to — shutting out the town’s access in the process, Walker said.

Before the strike, the fire department’s account information was available upon request by the fire department’s executive board, according to warrants. Afterwards, however, Hughes would not share bank statements for the fundraising arms when asked repeatedly by fellow firefighters.

Hughes refused to open his books to the town as well. Officials were not privy to the finances of the fire department’s fundraising arms despite at least one official request.

Hughes told Town Attorney Fred Moody, in a letter dated July 13, that the Bryson City Fire Department had not had a bank account since Jan. 1, 2000, according to a search warrant.

Other firemen who asked about financial records were also told “no” by Hughes, the search warrant states.

A volunteer firefighter Mitch Cooper, who later provided the town with what he asserted was proof of Hughes’ mismanagement, is among those who asked where the (citizen) donations were going. Hughes told Cooper that he would get the information together.

Instead, Hughes would “fabricate a piece of paper of what was spent and how much was left,” according to a search warrant.

The fire department’s board of directors also asked about the bank statements for the fundraising arms. But in what was apparently his typical fashion, Hughes produced a handwritten notation, but no official documentation.

During Fireman’s Day in 2010, a community rally of sorts for the volunteer firefighters, town fireman David Zalva helped count the donations the department received, which totaled about $4,800, according to a search warrant. However, Hughes said only $600 was collected, according to a search warrant.

 

Informal oversight

At some point in the not too distant past, Bryson City’s mayors would also serve as fire chief, said Town Manager Larry Callicutt.

Because of this, the town board did not need formal oversights. The mayor, who was also the fire chief, maintained an informal line of communication between the firehouse and the town board.

Walker said he believes this resulted in a separation between the town board and the fire department because there was never a formal system of checks and balances. When Hughes came along, but wasn’t also the mayor, there was no prescedent of oversight.

“That’s my belief,” Walker said. “Somebody took advantage of (the separation).”

This meant the town did not exercise any oversight of the fire department’s fundraising activities, and officials did not know how much the department brought in, nor how it was being spent.

The Bryson City Fire Department has a local relief fund, a separate fundraising arm so to speak, as do other fire departments in the state.

A Board of Trustees, consisting of five fire department members, is supposed to oversee the local relief fund. However, this board never met, and people named in the annual reports did not know they were on the board.

As of 2002, Hughes was listed as treasurer of the Relief Fund Board, according to its annual reports. Charles Killebrew was listed as chairman of the board.

Killebrew told Chet Effler, an investigator with the State Department of Insurance, that Hughes asked him to serve on the board but stated that he never attended any meetings for the board nor saw any annual reports. Most of the firemen interviewed during the state investigation said they did not even know the Bryson City Fire Department had a local relief fund.

The department is required to submit an annual report to the State Firemen’s Association, detailing how much money the relief fund had at the end of the year, where it is invested and what funds were spent on that year. MOVED

Each fire department is required to submit the annual report if it wishes receive funding the following year. In most cases, departments must have permission from the association to spend relief fund monies.

“Based on the reports they sent, you really couldn’t tell anything was going on,” said Miller, executive director of the firemen’s association. That’s why Cooper’s whistleblower role was key to uncovering possible wrongdoings, Miller said.

Cooper told police in May that money collected during some donation and fund raising events was unaccounted for, and money given to the department was not “being maintained, accounted for, or properly used as intended,” according to a search warrant.

Cooper could not be reached for comment.

Walker said that Cooper brought cancelled checks to him, which showed that the fire department was misusing funds. Walker then presented the checks to the town board, he said. But he said he couldn’t the rest of the board to take it seriously.

“The board took no action,” Walker said. “I had to go around the board to get this done in the first place.”

According the search warrant, Walker asked the Bryson City Police to investigate the fire department’s fundraising accounts on July 15 after citizens had asked him about their donated funds and why the department’s building looked run down. The mayor said he did not remember when he presented the cancelled checks to the board, and he did not approach the police sooner, he said, “because there was no physical evidence.”

Alderman Jim Gribble declined to comment on Walker’s statement that the board did nothing when presented with the cancelled checks. Tom Reidmiller, a fellow alderman, said the board has no jurisdiction over the auxiliary.

“I can’t tell you much because I don’t know much,” added Alderman Welch.

The town had to “back off” until it had evidence of wrongdoing, she said, later adding that the mayor, who oversees the police department, handled much of the investigation.

“We (town board) don’t have authority to initiate an investigation,” Welch said.

Callicutt said the board turned the cancelled checks over to Moody, the town attorney.

 

Questions, but no answers

Throughout the past three years, the town has discussed the fire department at several workshops, or additional monthly discussion session held by the board. An Aug. 25, 2009, workshop, illustrates the board’s apprehension to question the fire department.

“We’re not trying to be big brother or anything,” stated a Bryson City leader. No one is identified directly by name on the recording.

That audio recording of the August workshop is preserved on cassette at Bryson City Town Hall.

At the time, the board was talking about requiring drug testing for all town employees and querying whether fire department members, who are volunteers, can be subject to such an obligation. The board also discussed requesting the department include a drug testing policy in its bylaws.

The board planned to meet with fire department members at a later time to discuss the possible implementation of a drug testing policy.

“I am sure the people over there will say, ‘why in the hell are they coming over here?’” said a town leader on the recording. “As of yesterday, half of them didn’t even know we were coming.”

Several times during the workshop various alderman expressed a need to form a relationship with the fire department.

“The main thing is to establish a relationship, and find out what’s going on over there,” said another official.

As the meeting drew to a close, the aldermen mentioned that the department is obliged to send the town any checks addressed to the Bryson City Fire Department — not put them in a separate accounts.

“It’s just the way it should be. Period,” stated a Bryson City leader on the recording. “If you don’t, you gonna cause questions, and it’s gonna get you in trouble.”

In 2007 when the town and the county met to discuss their contracts with county fire departments, resident Mike Clampitt expressed concerns about a lack of information regarding the Bryson City Fire Department.

“There seemed to be a shortage of information and accurate data available at the meeting,” Clampitt, a former firefighter, wrote. “A great amount of time was spent in speculation and conjecture, which for me is even more troubling.”

During the past few years, there have also been several incidents regarding the improper use of fire department vehicles. In July 2009, Callicutt issued a notice to all volunteer firemen, based on a policy passed in 2008, which prohibits personal use of a fire department vehicle.

The town had received complaints that Hughes’ son was riding in vehicles purchased for the department using taxpayer funds, Walker said.

Almost a year later, in March 2010, the town board told Hughes to implement rules and regulations for the use of its GMC Yukon Quick Response Vehicle. When the fire department reported that it had yet to pass rules and regulations regarding the Yukon in June 2010, Walker asked the department to give the vehicle to local police until such policies were in place.

 

“Lost in the shuffle”

In addition to the local relief fund, the Bryson City Fire Department also had a Ladies Auxiliary, a nonprofit fundraising arm.

“I think what got lost in the shuffle was maybe the Ladies Auxiliary fund” because no one was overseeing it, Miller said.

It appears that no one audited the Bryson City Fire Department auxiliary’s finances.

“The auxiliary, that has not been part of our business; maybe, it should have been,” Welch said.

Although the auxiliary is registered with the state as a charitable organization, it does not have 501(c)3, or federal nonprofit, status and has not filed any nonprofit tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service.

“I won’t say that it can’t solicit funds, but the funds would not be tax deductible by the people giving the donations,” said Dean Coward, treasurer of executive board for the state firemen’s association.

The Waynesville Fire Department, which has a mixture of volunteer and salaried firefighters, also has a fund raising arm separate from its relief fund or town monies. However, the organization is registered as a nonprofit with the federal government, requires two signatures on all its checks and has its finances maintained by a local accountant. Its finances are accounted for by the fire department, its members and the federal government.

Callicutt said the town knew about an auxiliary account but did not know that the Bryson City Fire Department has two bank accounts, “Ladies Auxiliary” and “Friends of the Firemen,” at two different banks and that the town’s lawyer had advised the town board that they had no control over any auxiliary accounts.

“If they collect money in the name of the auxiliary, that was separate money, and that doesn’t need to come here (to the town),” Callicutt said. “If it doesn’t come through here, then we don’t know what they do.”

Hughes told The Smoky Mountain News that the auxiliary funds were handled precisely as the town had instructed.

While the fundraising arms was theoretically an important piece of the fire department’s budget, the core operations are funded by the county and town.

The town contributes between $40,000 and $50,000, plus insurance costs. The county kicks in $40,320 each year, since the fire department responds to calls outside the town limits in the county.

The town manages all the town and county funding coming in to the department, writing checks for the fire department’s yearly expenses rather than giving the money directly to the department.

Within the last year, the town board has worked on amending the fire department’s bylaws to include a new fiscal policy.

“The bylaws that we know of were never really ratified by the board,” Walker said.

The new fiscal policy section states the all money belonging to the department or funds raised under its name should be deposited in an account with the Town of Bryson City. Firefighters may apply to the town for reimbursement for gas or out-of-town travel and must follow the town’s purchasing policy. And although the volunteers can still elect their chief, the board must approve him or her. The town board must also approve changes to the department’s bylaws.

 

The givers

The accounts impacted by the investigation into Hughes’ activities were specifically for donations and other funds raised in the name of the Bryson City Fire Department and its auxiliary. Those who gave from their own pocketbooks — both business owners and residents — were most affected.

“People are frustrated and concerned, and I think people just want answers,” said Scott Mastej, part owner of Cork and Bean Coffee House and Wine Bar in Bryson City. With the economy still in recovery, any form of “financial fraud” hurts even more, he said.

Bryson City resident Willard Smith has given money to the fire department in past years and doesn’t know what to believe.

“That’s kind of a mess ain’t it,” Smith said. “I hope it’s not too bad.”

Some people who have donated before, including Pasqualino’s Italian Restaurant owner Pascual Izquierdo, have lost faith in the fire department.

“Who will we trust now?” he said.

Goodwill not showing much good will to other nonprofits

Some local thrift shop operators in Jackson County or crying foul over a nonprofit accepting donations in Sylva despite not having a store in the county.

Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina has a trailer (as in the second half of the word tractor-trailer) parked alongside N.C. 107 near Wal-Mart. The nearest Goodwill stores, however, are located in neighboring Macon and Haywood counties, with the one in Waynesville opening just last month.

Ina Claire “Sam” Bryant, a board member for Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, doesn’t deny that Goodwill does good work. That said, Bryant firmly believes the huge nonprofit needs to recognize it’s severely damaging the abilities of smaller good-work agencies to help county residents more directly.

“I think it is outrageous,” Bryant said. “My concern, as a citizen of Jackson County, is that whatever is collected in this county should benefit Jackson County — because our people need these collections and the donations. And the need is growing.”

Because Habitat for Humanity doesn’t accept clothing, it isn’t being as profoundly impacted as some nonprofits in Jackson County that rely on thrift-store money to operate, she said.

Goodwill is one of the world’s largest nonprofit providers of education, training and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

Goodwill Industries set up its Sylva donations trailer in 2009. Jaymie Eichorn, who handles marketing and communications in this region out of Winston-Salem for the nonprofit, said she understands the concerns of some in Jackson County, but added she doesn’t believe the entire problem rests with her agency. Not, she said, given the national downward spiral of the economy.

“Our donations are down, too,” Eichorn said.

Janet Mason, finance director for REACH, said the anti-domestic violence agency is experiencing more than simply a downturn in donations resulting from difficult economic hard times and a harsh winter season. Mason said the Jackson County nonprofit saw an immediate decline in donations when Goodwill moved in.

She attributed the donation drain to two issues: local residents not realizing that when they give to Goodwill the donations don’t directly benefit Jackson County residents, and the convenience and ideal location of Goodwill’s trailer setup. REACH thrift store moved from a near-downtown spot to a smaller store and along a fairly obscure part of Skyland Drive to save on rent.  

REACH of Jackson County’s financial problems are so dire the agency is facing the possibility of shutting down. This is a larger problem than anything Goodwill can possibly be blamed for, Mason acknowledged. But since the larger nonprofit came in, she said, the agency’s thrift store is barely breaking even. And, when you are just hoping to cover payroll and find enough pennies for the phone bill, Goodwill and its donation drain aren’t exactly helping the situation.

“I can’t sell it if I don’t have anything to sell,” said Mason, who in a cost-saving move recently took over management of the thrift store in addition to overseeing the agency’s budget.

REACH in 2001 opened a transitional village for women to the tune of $1.1 million, using a federal loan and a state loan. The agency overreached in its ability to pay for that dream of helping abused women find temporary homes, jobs and other help. Today, the village is in foreclosure proceedings. The problems don’t stop there: because of how the state handles grant money — not starting payments until about four months into the beginning of each fiscal year — REACH must find money before July (an estimated $100,000 to $150,000) to ride out that financial drought.  

Eichorn said Goodwill uses a trailer-donation setup elsewhere, not just in Sylva. It is an excellent method for the nonprofit to gauge whether a community has the interest and ability to support a store, she said.

“We’d love to have one there,” Eichorn said, though there are no plans for one at this point.

The donation center employs two Jackson County residents, Eichorn said.

Nonprofits struggle in adverse fundraising climate

It has been a difficult year for environmental nonprofits. State budget cuts have meant fewer grants and philanthropic endowments have suffered with the stock market. Meanwhile, the focus of giving has shifted towards social issues, like providing food, housing and services for the working poor or jobless.

How do you convince someone of the necessity of protecting the environment when people are suffering? That’s a question that Kate Parkerson, development director for the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, has to answer.

“Finding ways to help communities get through these times is very important but preserving natural resources in rural counties is a way to ensure that they continue to support themselves,” Parkerson said.

Parkerson said environmental causes always represent the smallest slice of the philanthropic pie, but the current economic climate has squeezed their resources from two directions.

“Foundations and state funding have been cut, so the Catch2222 is that you rely more on private donors at a time when they are stretched,” Parkerson said.

Parkerson said LTLT has been fortunate with its private donations this year, but even after cutting its budget by 20 percent, the organization is looking at starting next year in the red.

LTLT received over $1 million from a scenic byway grant to protect the Wood Family Farm in Andrews, but the money hinges on their ability to match it at 30 percent.

Parkerson said in today’s fundraising environment, it pays to have a clear message.

“Clean water, healthy forests, productive farmlands are the basic things that support rural economies. If these things are healthy, the people have a way of supporting themselves,” Parkerson said.

Another hit to environmental initiatives is waning support from state and local government, according to George Ivey, a grant writer and project manager for nonprofits.

Haywood County ceased even nominal contributions to nonprofits, including local environmental groups. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped state froze and even robbed trust funds designated for land conservation. That impacted Ivey’s work with Haywood County tobacco farmers looking for new crops that would make farming viable again, which in turn would preserve the agricultural landscape.

“There simply wasn’t as much grant money to go around to help farmers trying to transition away from tobacco. That money definitely seemed to dry up,” said Ivey, who lives in Haywood County.

Corporate donations were down as well, given the troubled economic times.

“When they are laying off staff, it is difficult for them to make a sizeable donation. There was a definitive drop-off there,” said Ivey, who often courts large corporations and corporate foundations to support environmental initiatives.

Ivey said some funders recognized the hard times environmental groups were facing and increased their giving. But environmental groups had to write better proposals and be more judicious about which projects to pursue, judging the effectiveness of each and weighing how well they fit their mission. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The best projects would still rise to the top and get funded over the ones that weren’t as well thought out or seemed redundant,” Ivey said.

An easy area to scale back was special events that gained public awareness for a group’s mission and built support for their work, but didn’t net a return, like fundraising dinners.

Another side effect is that environmental groups collaborated more. Sometimes groups with overlapping missions ended up working together at the request of donors themselves.

“They said maybe y’all need to talk together or work together better,” Ivey said.

Some environmental groups simply couldn’t maintain the staff they once had. The National Parks Conservation Association shut down a field office in Asheville and laid off a staff person who worked to protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.

But the news isn’t all bad. Houk Medford, executive director of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, said his organization is doing better than it did last year.

The foundation serves as a fundraising entity for the National Park Service’s work to maintain and improve the land bordering the parkway.

“I think the support is a reflection of the strong interest people have in the Blue Ridge Parkway because for a lot of people it’s the national park in their backyard,” Medford said.

Medford said they key to fundraising for environmental causes is to realize that the preserving natural resources is work that looks to the future.

“The message has to be future-based with a present moment sense of urgency,” Medford said.

Agencies, departments reeling from county budget cuts

Non-profit agencies and county departments in Haywood County are still reeling from massive budget cuts announced by commissioners last week.

The county commissioners cut funding to all non-profits for the rest of the fiscal year, and called for county departments to scale back their budgets by 7 percent.

The cuts will affect everything from arts to recreation to schools. Leaders continued to call emergency meetings this week to grapple with the grim financial picture.

Some non-profit agencies were hit harder than others, like the Haywood County Arts Council. The group receives $15,000 per year from the county, an amount that will be cut by $11,250 in 2009.

“That’s a lot of money — it’s hard to make up that amount,” said Arts Council Director Kay Waldrop, who called an emergency meeting Monday (March 16) to discuss the cuts with her board of directors.

Waldrop said across-the-board cuts to the arts at federal, state and local levels are making it hard to cope.

“It’s the snowball effect,” Waldrop said. “Just one thing you can try to overcome pretty easily, but when your grants are cut, government funding is cut, donations are down and ticket sales are down — when all of those are cut, it’s a double whammy.”

Waldrop said her organization will battle to keep itself afloat.

“We’re fighting to keep the arts alive in our community,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Waynesville Recreation Center is doing its fair share of fighting. The Center receives $70,000 per year in county support, but won’t get any more for the rest of the year.

The county supplement has allowed county residents to pay the same amount as town residents for a recreation center membership despite not paying the taxes that town residents do to support the center.

Now, the recreation center must find some way to make up for the shortfall — and raising rates for county residents is one option on the table.

“We don’t have differential rates right now for the town and county, primarily because Haywood County was giving us money to supplement the difference,” said Rhett Langston, director of recreation for the Town of Waynesville. “We’ve got to come up with the money to supplement the difference some other way. We want to be very, very careful and be as fair as possible.”

Langston said the cut won’t affect programs or classes, but that the recreation center, “will definitely feel it.”

Other non-profits to feel the cut most include the Haywood County Agricultural Activities Center, the low-cost Good Samaritan Clinic, and Haywood Mountain Home.

 

Feeling the pinch

County departments are also reeling from the round of cuts. Some have struggled to trim their already slim budgets. A week after a county mandate to departments to cut 7 percent of their budget, across-the-board cuts only totaled 3.7 percent, Haywood County Manager David Cotton told commissioners at their Monday (March 16) meeting.

The county has tossed around various ideas to save money, including making employees take mandatory leave or cutting work weeks to 36 hours. The most drastic step will be unavoidable, Cotton said.

“We’re looking at layoffs. That’s where we’re going,” Cotton told commissioners.

Cotton said the county will take a look at the departments that have seen a slowdown in a need for their services as places to cut positions.

Robert Busko, director of the Haywood County Public Library system, said his employees have already volunteered unpaid time off and are bracing for more.

“I’m taking a week off without pay, and most supervisory staff are taking five days without pay,” Busko said. “Whenever you have to have employees take time off without pay, that’s one of the last resorts.”

The budget cuts mean the library system is holding off on developing its collection at a time when library use has increased with people seeking low-cost entertainment. The library constantly reviews it collection, ordering new materials on subjects that may be lacking and replacing out-of-date materials.

“We got a few materials ordered before we had to make the cut, but we’re ordering bestsellers only right now,” Busko said.

 

“A tremendous hit”

Meanwhile, the school system is figuring out how to cope with budget cuts. The school system has already slashed its budget by 3 percent to comply with a state mandate, and is bracing for additional state cuts that could total up to 9 percent — in addition to the county reductions.

“This last (county) one was totally unexpected,” said Mike Sorrells, chair of the school finance committee and member of the school board. “We are taking a tremendous hit.”

School superintendent Anne Garrett called the cuts, “serious — very serious.”

So far, the school system has been able to avoid layoffs. But various projects will have to be put on hold. One of them is a five-year project to get all student records put on microfilm, since some of the paper copies are old and deteriorating. Other cuts will mostly be supplies and materials to various programs, including vocational, special needs, the Gateway Program for at-risk students, and staff development for substitute teachers, who will not be attending conferences in the near future as a result of the cuts.

School officials expressed concern about the impact the latest cuts have had on the system’s general fund balance, or money not targeted for a specific purpose, which has been slashed in half.

The 2004 floods highlighted the importance of having a fund balance. When the school system was hit with unexpected costs, it had reserves to pull from to pay for upfront repairs before federal and state reimbursements came in.

“If we have some kind of crisis where a major piece of equipment goes down and we don’t have money in the fund balance,” that’s not a desirable situation, said Larry Smith, Chief Financial Officer for Haywood County Schools.

The county’s fund balance has dipped as well, and mandatory budget cuts are a necessary way to get the fund balance back to acceptable levels, said commissioners. Plus, cuts have been felt in private industry for some time, so it was only a matter of time before local governments were forced to follow suit.

“The private sector has been having to cut back for several months, and now the county has to cut back,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

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