New policy mulled for agency funding

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BENNINGTON — Select Board members could soon consider amending the process for how private, nonprofit agencies seek funding at the annual town meeting.

Those agencies seeking $7,500 or less must now submit petitions every third year to remain on the ballot in March, a triannual requirement that is coming again this winter. Agencies requesting over $7,500 must petition annually.

Under a proposed amended policy discussed this week, agencies that have continually received $7,500 or less would be put on the ballot each year without having to petition. Agencies with larger requests would still have to submit petitions each year.

Town Manager Stuart Hurd recommended on Monday that Select Board members amend the policy. They took no action, but there was some back and forth discussion. Chariman Tom Jacobs requested a policy recommendation be placed on the agenda for discussion. Hurd said he'd try to have it for the next meeting.

It would be a change to the policy the board last revised in 2012 prior to the fiscal 2013 budget process. Agencies seeking $7,500 or less need to provide signatures every three years to remain on the ballot, if they provide the town with information on how the money is spent and who is benefiting. Requests above $7,500 require a petition each year. The Bennington Free Library and John G. McCullough Library are exempt from petitioning, but still have to apply. Petitions must have signatures from 5 percent of registered voters — according to Hurd, that's now 469.

It's confusing for people working for those agencies to keep track of what year they need to petition, Hurd said. And one new agency that received funding two years ago isn't in the three-year cycle.

"The original idea was that it renews the community's enthusiasm for a particular agency's funding," Hurd said. But most agencies' requests pass by wide margins each year. "Is it really beneficial to have them go back to the well every three years ?"

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.

Member Jeannie Jenkins said requiring agencies to produce nearly 500 signatures every year would put "an undue burden on the very groups we depend on to do the work that our municipality has trouble doing itself."

Vice chairman Donald Campbell said requiring a certain amount of signatures on a regular basis could keep the requests from increasing to more than taxpayers can bear.

Hurd said a decision is not needed this week, but noted petitions would be due in January. That's also when Select Board members will review the budget for fiscal 2019, which will begin July 1, 2018.

Reach staff writer Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.


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