City, county may have to cut funding of some local agencies

Published 6:42 pm Sunday, June 4, 2017

LaGRANGE – Budgets for both the city and the county are expected to be finalized in coming weeks, and both have had to take a closer look at agency funding for the upcoming year.

While both governments voiced their support for the work that local agencies like the Chattahoochee Riverkeepers, Keep Troup Beautiful and the Boys and Girls Club are doing to make the community a better place, those agencies are the first places that both the city and county look toward for cuts when they need to balance the budget since their first priority is to ensure that their own budget is in good shape.

“I remember going through my first budget meeting that I sat through before the election, and I remember Dr. (Willie) Edmundson bringing up that we are going to start weening some of these organizations off and start cutting them back because it seems to be a repetitive cycle,” Councilman Mark Mitchell said. “I am of the opinion that we need to start cutting back 10 percent or doing something with some of these.”

The city charter gives the city council with the mayor the authority to designate money from the city budget to go toward charities or entities that they deem beneficial to the city as a whole. During this year’s budget meeting, the city council eased off the funding of most organizations by about 10 percent. However, a few organizations like Harmony House, which had requested additional funding to help cover the gap left by the closure of the Emmaus Women’s Shelter, will simply stay at the same funding level instead of receiving the requested raises.

“We are so very grateful for the city if they have continued with the balance they were previously,” Harmony’s Michelle Benefield said. “Troup County has the best collaborative group to work with. The agencies really work well together with our city officials, with our law enforcement, with other nonprofits, and then I probably speak for many of us when I say there is no way we could do what we do without the partnerships that we have in LaGrange.”

The support that groups like Harmony House receive from city and county government helps them prove that the community is supportive of their work when applying for grants. All of that support comes with a price tag though.

“In the past, we have done that (gradual phase out) with some organizations, where the council has been of a mind that this needs to be phased out, and I think certainly there is an example where last year Circles, the council said it was going to fund, but it was going to notify that we wanted Circles to try to become self-sustaining over three years or whatever,” said LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton. “The county followed our lead, but they didn’t give them a glide path. They just cut their funding altogether last year. That put the program in a pretty hard spot because they had been relying upon that funding, and the county has chopped that off.”

Troup County’s Board of Commissioners had put off all additional funding requests for the time being.

“We have a lot of outside agencies, but my focus this year is going to be on taking care of our own,” said Commissioner Richard English during the county budget hearing last week.