New policy for agency funding requests

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BENNINGTON — Community agencies will have to follow a new process this winter if they seek funding at the annual town meeting.

Select Board members this week agreed to a new policy, which they said would be a one-year trial. Private, non-profit agencies will be asked to share additional information about their organizations before an appropriations request is placed on the ballot.

Select Board member Jeannie Jenkins presented her research into the process used by other towns, including Manchester. In describing what other towns require, she said: "It's a much more thorough rendering of why they're requesting the town help support them... It seems like a worthwhile thing for us to do because then we'll have informed voting."

Social service agencies seeking more than $7,500 have been required to 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 would have needed to reapply. Adding confusion is that one agency that was new to the ballot last year isn't in the same three-year cycle.

Under a revised protocol members agreed on Monday to implement, organizations won't have to petition this budget cycle unless they are requesting more than they requested last year. But agency representatives will have to submit additional information about their organizations, including what's been accomplished in the prior year, goals for the coming year, and details on how the taxpayers' money will be used. And representatives will be asked to make a presentation at the annual town meeting.

Town Manager Stu Hurd said the deadline for applications from agencies in years past has been on or around Dec. 10. That gives him an idea of what agencies will request at town meeting. "I want to be able to tell you what agency requests are so you understand the implication of them being on the ballot," he told members. The board will have budget talks in January.

Voters appropriated $336,759 to various agencies through articles at town meeting in March. Of that, the largest request of $207,459 came from Bennington Rescue Squad. The remaining $129,300 included $25,000 to the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless, $21,600 for Bennington Area Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice, and eight requests under $7,500.

Chairman Tom Jacobs said he liked the idea of receiving an annual report that could be included into the town's report, and said representatives should also speak at the annual town floor meeting.

Organizations could be given a template to follow when providing information to town officials, said member Carson Thurber.

Vice-chairman Donald Campbell said there should be a "regular effort" by every organization to go before taxpayers, a commitment in the form of signatures. Campbell said he was "reluctant to go this route," but was willing to try it for this year. "I don't want this to become a standing policy until we have a little more experience."

Members expressed they were in favor of organizations being required to petition if they had not been on the ballot before. They also indicated the board would revisit the process mid-2018.

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


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