Board reviews agency request policy

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BENNINGTON — In an effort to bring greater order to the process, Select Board members are considering a new policy for how private, nonprofit agencies seek funding at the annual town meeting.

Members on Monday reviewed a draft policy brought forward by Town Manager Stu Hurd. Some members agreed to brainstorm ways to discuss a change to the policy that was presented.

Social service agencies seeking $7,500 or more must petition annually, either individually or in a group. Those seeking $7,500 or less must submit petitions every third year to remain on the ballot in March. That three-year cycle is up now, meaning agencies will need to reapply.

One agency that was new to the ballot last year isn't in the same three-year cycle, according to Hurd.

"If you don't change the policy, I think it's only going to add to the confusion," he said, adding that it's likely more agencies will come forward and be on different three-year cycles.

Under a proposed new policy, agencies receiving $7,500 or less would be put on the ballot each year without having to petition, provided the funding remains level and they supply town officials with requested information about the organization. Agencies asking for $7,500 or more must petition each year. The Bennington County Regional Commission, the Bennington Free Library, the McCullough Library, Paran Recreation and the Village of North Bennington would still be exempt from petitioning.

Board member Jeannie Jenkins said the policy should require information that agencies provide town staff to be made more publicly available and suggested it be put on the town website.

"Information should be presented so people voting know what good work is being done and why they are requesting taxpayers' support," she said.

"The goal is to help people make a reasonable choice and get information in advance," said member Carson Thurber.

Jenkins called having organizations submit a petition every year "onerous" and indicated a three-year cycle would be less of a burden. It would be the responsibility of people working for an agency that's seeking funding to keep track of when they must gather signatures to appear on the ballot, she said.

Petitions must have signatures from 5 percent of registered voters. That's about 450 signatures.

Hurd said board members could require agency representatives make a presentation at annual town meeting; some already do.

Board members will take the issue up again at their next meeting on Nov. 27.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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