ELLSWORTH — They may not be fighting fires or patrolling the streets, but fun deserves funding too. That’s the message nonprofit directors are trying to send to city councilors wrestling with difficult decisions this budget season.
“I don’t have to convince anybody about how vital The Grand is to the community,” Director Nick Turner told councilors during a budget meeting at the beginning of May.
“If The Grand were to shut down you would be focused on reopening it,” Turner continued. “It is a vital and important place and it needs funding.”
Each year, beginning in April, the city holds a series of budget workshops. They’re open to the public (although they are not televised as are many other city meetings) and offer a chance for department heads and anyone else who receives city funding to present a budget to councilors.
Any social service agency or nonprofit can apply for money from the city, although Ellsworth has a more formal process than some municipalities.
The city has a Social Service Funding Policy, which states that officials will “give equal consideration to all social service organizations which provide basic life needs to Ellsworth residents.”
Most years it works like this: an agency applies for funding; the application is evaluated by the Social Services Committee and a funding recommendation level is made to councilors, who may decide to alter the level before voting on the budget.
“It was handled a little differently this year,” said Deputy City Manager Tammy Mote. “The Social Services Committee didn’t meet. It’s just being brought to council flat-funded from last year.”
Mote said she wasn’t sure why the committee hadn’t met. But despite that, representatives from agencies that have applied for funding still got a chance to stand before councilors to demonstrate the merits of their agencies.
Phyllis Young, a board member representing Heart of Ellsworth, pointed to a few of the nonprofit’s projects, which include beautifying the downtown with flower boxes as well as putting on events such as the DownEast Cheese and Cider Festival and the Holiday Marketplace.
“I think sometimes people think that these things just appear,” Young said. “It takes a lot of work, it takes staff time.”
This year, city officials have proposed cutting the budget for social services agencies, which includes organizations such as the Emmaus Homeless Shelter and Friends in Action, by $1,000, or 6.10 percent, to $15,400 overall.
The budget for recreation, which includes funding for the Down East Family YMCA and The Grand, is up 10.54 percent, to $123,800. The increase in the recreation budget is mainly due to increased maintenance costs for the Knowlton Park Rink, which needs a new liner.
The city also is now paying a retainer to the YMCA to maintain the ice, rather than relying on volunteers. Officials also have proposed increasing funding for The Grand’s programming, vacation movies and a new line item of $2,500 to fund Shakespeare in the Park.
The YMCA looks likely to receive the same amount of funding as last year and the year before, $62,000.
All of this could change before councilors vote on the budget in June. A final budget overview will be held in the council chambers on June 3 at 6 p.m.