Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 28, 2019 and Island Ad-Vantages, February 28, 2019 and The Weekly Packet, February 28, 2019
Towns vary in approach to annual nonprofit funding requests
by Anne Berleant
Every town meeting warrant includes requests from local nonprofits for financial assistance, based on services provided to the community. How these requests are handled by town selectmen, managers and budget committees varies from town to town, but for each one that ends up on the warrant, it is the voters who decide whether to grant or deny funds.
Amounts are as small as a $100 request from Maine Public Broadcasting Network and as large as Blue Hill Public Library’s 2019 request for $85,300 from its home town. The library’s requests to Blue Hill and the three peninsula towns without a full service library—Sedgwick, Surry and Penobscot—account for 17 percent of the library’s operating budget, Director Rich Boulet said. For the three towns outside of Blue Hill, the request is based on the number of library card holders although it’s not equal to the cost of services provided.
“If all of that money disappeared, I can say with some confidence we certainly would not be open six days a week,” Boulet said.
For Penobscot, the Blue Hill Library’s 2019 request is $3,210, and although its requests have been “somewhat controversial” at past town meetings, that hasn’t been the case in recent years, Chairman of Selectmen Paul Bowen said.
“Every community gets more requests than they can fund,” Bowen said. “We don’t have a formal process. The board of selectmen has the authority to decide what goes on the town warrant. If people aren’t satisfied, they can put out a petition.”
Bowen said selectmen generally work with the town finance committee in deciding which requests make it onto the warrant.
“Most of the ones that the town has sought to fund, such as the ambulance or library and Eastern Area Agency on Aging, do have an impact on the town and a supported base in the town,” he said.
Peninsula Ambulance Corps. bases its annual requests on town population, President Bob Vaughan said, with funding requests representing 26 percent of the nonprofit’s annual operating budget in 2018. (Its annual appeal accounted for 21 percent.)
“[Town funding] is essential to our continuing survival,” said Vaughan, who attends as many town meetings as possible, sending another board member if there is a scheduling conflict.
In Blue Hill, nonprofits must go through the petition process requiring signatures totaling at least 10 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election, but only for their first request.
“After that, you’re in, and all we need is a letter,” Selectman Jim Schatz said. However, for the three new requests that came in this year, Schatz said the town budget committee recommended letting voters decide at town meeting rather than requiring the petition process, in part because the town is looking at changing the overall request process.
In Sedgwick, all requests submitted by deadline are included in the printed warrant, Budget Committee Chairman Zoe Tenney said, with the committee’s funding recommendation.
“We have seen an increase in the number and dollar amount of nonprofit requests this year, but our process for review is unchanged,” Tenney said. “Priority is given to organizations that serve a significant portion of our community and depend upon our local support.”
In Surry, nonprofits must go through the petition process for the first five years of requests. The petition is presented to the selectmen, who place it on the town meeting warrant.
If the organization request is approved by voters for five years, it “just sends a letter asking for money and the request goes on the warrant,” Selectman Bill Matlock said.
Deer Isle sends a form to organizations requesting funds for the first time. “I thought I’d show them what we think is an acceptable format,” Town Manager Jim Fisher said. Requests then go to the selectmen, who have discretion, Fisher said, but “by and large, selectmen leave it up to voters.”