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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Affected programs react to cuts

Friday, November 11, 2011

Last fiscal year, Fulton County's three senior citizen centers served nearly 19,000 meals to guests, and delivered more than 7,000 meals to home-bound residents. Director Connie Godwin fears many fewer seniors will be served next year, because of a $15,000 cut in funding from Fulton County government, which is struggling with a $100,000 deficit. Photo by Richard Irby
"If that is true, it is unfortunate," said a shocked Connie Godwin.

A week after Quorum Court made the decision, Godwin, Director of Fulton County Senior Citizen Centers, had just been told by a reporter that government funding for her organization had been cut in half.

"I am surprised someone from government has not informed us," said Godwin. "I expected our funding request would be reduced, since it was last year, but we won't be able to survive a 50 percent cut," said Godwin. "If it stands, we will probably be looking at closing a center down and reducing days of operation at the two others."

The organization, which operates senior citizen centers in Salem, Viola and Mammoth Spring, had requested $30,000 in county funding. It will receive only $15,000, if the budget cut stands.

While Sharp County has already reduced days of operation at its centers, Fulton County has continued to provide weekday transportation and meals and recreation at centers, in addition to delivering meals to shut-ins.

"This is a terrible time to think about reducing services to senior citizens," Godwin said. "Our centers provide the only balanced meals that many seniors receive each day."

While state funding provides the bulk of the money senior centers receive, most centers depend on county funding and private fundraising to keep providing full services.

"We have dedicated employees and wonderful volunteers who help us with fundraisers," said Godwin. "But there's no way we can make up a $15,000 loss. To have to quit feeding the elderly, that's shocking. Everyone should be sharing in budget cuts. I don't think the elderly should be penalized more than others."

Malinda Gray of the Fulton County Cooperative Extension Service told The News she had not been officially informed of her agency's big budget cut, but knew it had been proposed.

The extension service had asked for $34,289 in county funding next budget year, but will have to make due with $17,145 because of Quorum Court budget cutting.

"The main thing is, the cuts have not been finalized, as yet," Gray said. "We want to work with the county to see if there are ways to continue to fund our programs."

"If our funding is cut, it will be local farmers who will feel it," said Chasity Carter of the Fulton County Conservation District.

The $5,200 her agency requested in the county budget is small compared to most requests. But, according to Carter, the money would be used to match state and federal grants, to help farmers improve their land with ponds, better fencing and other projects that improve the environment, through better conservation.

"We have a three year grant right now, so money is available to farmers," said Carter. "But we have to match the grant dollar for dollar."

Carter said the conservation district raises money through equipment rentals and selling farm supplies, but making up the $2,600 cut from its budget request will not be easy.

"What does soil conservation do with this money?" asked one Justice of the Peace, as cutting grant in aid requests was discussed.

"Supposedly, they use it to match grants," came a reply.

After spending hours looking, but finding little fat to cut out of county government departments, Quorum Court decided cutting money from non-government agencies, who serve citizens, was a fair approach.

"We've got to cut somewhere," said another J-P, endorsing the proposal to cut grant in aid requests by half.

If "new money" is found, or the county's Final Settlement from the state (the local share of property tax collections ) is much larger than the $300,000 it expects to receive, proposed budget reductions could be lessened.

But, in a year where tax collections have been lower than normal, that is not likely.

Quorum Court was not anxious to support an idea suggested by County Assessor Brad Schaufler.

Fulton County currently charges a three mill tax on property and personal property, while the majority of Arkansas counties charge four or five mills. Five is the maximum allowed.

According to Schaufler, increasing the tax to four or five mills would bring in additional revenue, which is badly needed to properly fund county government and community projects.

"That's the last thing we want to do (raise taxes)," one J-P quickly replied.

"People may not like it, but they are not going to like anything you do (raising revenue or cutting services)," Schaufler responded. "Guys, I don't want to be in your shoes. I get enough calls, as it is, on taxes."

J-Ps, who had been grilling Schaufler about budget cuts in his office, sent him quickly on his way.

"Thank you, sir," said a J-P, putting an end to any tax talk, to solve budget problems.

Schaufler has, in the past, advocated finding permanent solutions, like new revenue, to prevent yearly budget short falls, instead of making "band-aid" budget cuts each year.

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