The town of Essex will provide an extra $1,000 in one-time funding to Steps to End Domestic Violence, which is facing a shortfall in the wake of changes to United Way’s grant process.
The decision comes weeks after Gail Beck, a town resident who serves on the Steps board, asked the selectboard for $1,000 to help the organization withstand a blow to its funding model.
The United Way of Northwest Vermont typically funds area nonprofits, including Steps, on a three-year cycle. But a new giving strategy this year saw some of those organizations lose out on relied-upon funding. Steps, which asked for $120,000, received nothing.
“We’ve had to make some dramatic and drastic cuts,” Beck said at the June 18 meeting.
Beck said the shortage forced the organization to eliminate four positions and cut back on its emergency shelter program, which aids people who flee violent situations at home. She said they don’t even have enough money to provide snacks for children playgroups or extra food for the shelter.
Funding human services agencies with taxpayer dollars is not a new concept: The selectboard has distributed 1 percent of the general fund budget toward such initiatives for years.
But members typically finalize their funding breakdown in late spring and did so June 4 for this cycle, distributing just over $140,000 to a slew of agencies, including an initial $3,5000 contribution to Steps.
Still, some selectboard members Monday night said they were disappointed the organization had come back to ask for so little. Andy Watts, explaining why he supported the $1,000 donation, said the town is already spending a lot of money on the potential changes to the shooting ordinances, a topic that impacts a “significantly smaller” number of people in town.
The town is among Steps’ biggest benefactors, with more than 180 residents from Essex or Essex Jct. seeking the organization’s help last year alone, according to Beck. That number could be larger since some people choose not to identify their town of residence, she said.
In her initial pitch, Beck said nearly 80 percent of every dollar goes directly into services, so even such a relatively small amount can make a difference. “A thousand dollars is a lot of money to us,” she said.
Tied in with Monday night’s discussion was a reference to an expected surplus from fiscal year 2018, which closed two weeks ago. Unified manager Evan Teich said he’s not exactly sure how much the town will have left over – his finance director was on vacation, and some checks are still coming in ¬– but he called the surplus “sizable.”
He credited town staff for some of the savings but noted the Essex Police Department’s struggle to fill some positions in the previous fiscal year made up most of the balance. He said the department has since hired new officers, and as of last week, was just one officer away from full staffing, including the two new positions in the current fiscal year budget – that is, until a resignation filed Monday set them back again.
Teich approached the selectboard to see if members wanted to set aside some of the surplus money in case other organizations that rely on United Way funding ask for help, too.
Members weren’t interested in that idea. But they did ask for more information about the surplus and its potential uses; staff planned to return with some information when the audit is finished sometime in August.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Beck expressed appreciation for the board’s decision.
“We are absolutely so grateful to Essex for recognizing the need,” she said. “We are hoping to get our message across to as many people as possible.”