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Rock County budget eliminates funding for four nonprofits

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Ashley McCallum
Thursday, October 26, 2017

JANESVILLE -- Rock County is cutting funding to four nonprofits based on a legal opinion issued by the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office in September.

HealthNet of Rock County, Rock Valley Community Programs, NeighborWorks and United Way Blackhawk Region in 2018 will not receive funding from Rock County as they have in years past.

State statutes prohibit counties from making financial contributions to nonprofits unless specifically authorized in the statutes, according to the opinion issued by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel.

The opinion followed a situation in Shawano County, where the attorney general suggested the county did not have statutory authority to provide funding for a food pantry.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith based his recommendations for nonprofit funding on the attorney general's opinion, he said Wednesday during a meeting of the Rock County Board Human Services Committee.

In 2017, 14 programs spanning 11 organizations received $248,015 in county funding.

Smith recommended nine programs across seven organizations share $120,443 in 2018, according to the administrator's budget comments.

Funding requests recommended to be cut next year include:

-- $57,867 requested by HealthNet of Rock County to offset costs of nursing and case management positions, patient supplies and rent. The same amount was provided in 2017.

-- $60,755 requested by Rock Valley Community Programs for the Alternate Service Program and $12,750 for the Residential Re-Entry Program. Both amounts were provided in 2017.

-- $4,000 requested by United Way Blackhawk Region to fund the 211 information line.

-- $1,200 requested by NeighborWorks Blackhawk Region to offset costs of the first-time home-buyer program. The same amount was provided in 2017.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

The Alternate Service Program from Rock Valley Community Programs has been solely funded by the county since 1986, said Executive Director Angel Eggers.

The program provides community service hours as an alternative for adults who have court-ordered fines or are on probation, Eggers said.

Without funding from the county, the program will not operate next year, Eggers said. She did not know if or how the county would seek alternative options for people in the program.

Between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, 203 people participated in 7,566 community service hours through the Alternate Service Program, Eggers said.

The sole full-time employee for the program will be offered a different job through Rock Valley Community Programs, Eggers said.

Smith noted in his budget presentation that $73,505 previously given to Rock Valley Community Programs will go to the Evidence-Based Decision Making fund, which is used to improve behavioral health information sharing between the Rock County Human Services Department and the Janesville Police Department.

Smith hopes redirecting the money to that fund will allow for creation of an alternative to the community service program, Smith said.

Staff at HealthNet of Rock County have yet to determine the effects from the funding cut, said Ian Hedges, chief executive officer of the nonprofit.

The 211 information line, a 24-hour phone operation that provides information on housing, food, healthcare and other basic needs, is a priority for the United Way, said Mary Fanning-Penny, president of the United Way Blackhawk Region.

The United Way will seek alternative methods of funding to maintain the program, Fanning-Penny said.

In 2016, 5,640 referrals were made to local organizations through the information line, Fanning-Penny said.

The Gazette was unable to reach representatives from NeighborWorks for comment.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

County Board Supervisor Karl Dommershausen encouraged others at the human services committee meeting to contact legislators about opposition to the attorney general's opinion.

State representatives Deb Kolste, D-Janesville; Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton; Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit;and Janice Ringhand, D-Evansville, are aware of the county's concerns, Smith said.

Dommershausen said he hopes more voices will encourage legislation that would include more freedom for counties to grant funding to nonprofits.

Contracts between human services and nonprofits, specifically HealthNet, could help get money to organizations that need it but would mean a lot of restructuring for both agencies, Smith said.

WHO GETS FUNDED?

State statutes allow counties to give money to nonprofits that provide specific services, including assistance to senior citizens, historical societies, fairs, tourism attractions and victims of domestic violence.

Under those protections, nonprofits that will receive funding from the county in 2018 include:

-- Retired and Senior Volunteer Program

-- YWCA of Rock County

-- Court Appointed Special Advocates

-- Heritage Rock County

-- Rock County Tourism Council

-- Rock County 4-H Fair Board



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