Rutland deliberates $300,000 in non-profit requests

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(Host) As Vermonters look over their ballots on town meeting day, they may see a variety of items in addition to budgets and local elections. On many ballots will be requests for money from groups like the Visiting Nurses, ambulance services, libraries and senior organizations.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, in Rutland, these requests are totaling more than $300,000.

(Keck) Rutland’s Regional Ambulance Service wants $73,000. The Paramount Theater is asking voters for $20,000. The Rutland County Boys and Girls Club wants $25,000. In all, twelve groups are on this year’s ballot requesting more than $300,000. Rutland Mayor John Cassarino says some residents have complained to him that the additional spending will add too much to the city’s tax rate.

(Cassarino) “Because it’s about four cents on the budget, which is quite a bit when you consider a penny raises about $70,000 right now.”

(Keck) Cassarino says many people in Rutland already support their favorite charities or they support organizations like the United Way, which in turn provides funding to various groups.

(Cassarino) “The general concern is that people think a lot of these organizations should not be coming here to the city for it – that they’re double dipping, or triple dipping.”

(Keck) The sluggish economy, concerns about war and the lingering effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks have hurt many local agencies. But Mayor Cassarino says the number of organizations seeking city money has not increased dramatically. The Paramount Theater and the Rutland County Court Diversion and Restorative Justice Center are the first new names on the ballot since 1999. The mayor also points out that it’s not easy to ask the city for money. If an organization wants funding, it needs 5% of the city’s registered voters to sign a petition requesting it be put on the ballot. That means each organization has to get between 500 and 600 signatures. Cassarino says that ensures that it’s local residents and not city administrators who have the final say. Rutland resident George Saint likes it that way.

(Saint) “I welcome these organizations asking for money. But it’s up to us who are paying the money to determine how much money we want to give to them based on our priorities.”

(Keck) Most of the organizations seeking money from Rutland say the funding fills a critical need. Nikoa Kmetz-Derr is director of operations at the Boys and Girls Club, which is asking Rutland for $25,000.

(Kmetz-Derr) “It really helps us plan our budget if we’re able to know where certain amounts of money are coming from each year. It’s also very important through the national organization for them to see that local clubs are being supported by their local communities and local governments. And I think this is a really great way for us to show that Rutland City residents really support us and approve of the activities that we’re doing by allocating that money to us every year.”

(Keck) Rutland voters will have their chance to decide where their money goes on Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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