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Wednesday, April 25 News

Change recommended in how town funds non-profit groups

A committee recommends that the town appropriate a lump sum for non-profit groups that traditionally receive municipal support in the annual budget, and leave decisions on how that money is divvied up to a third party.

For years, the town has included budget line items for non-profit groups in the budget, with amounts ranging from $350,000 to the Pequot Library to $3,420 to the Fairfield Veteran Advisory and Information Services. Some of the allocations are mandatory, such as those to the Southwest Regional Communications Center.

About two years ago, a special committee was set up to look into how the town determines which non-profits to fund, and whether it should continue the practice at all. Under earlier recommendations form the panel, non-profits now have to provide specific budgetary information to the town budget director before the annual process of assembling the budget for a new fiscal year begins.

The latest recommendations were presented to the Board of Selectmen last week by Chairman Chris DeWitt, who also serves on the Board of Finance. No action was taken by the selectmen.

DeWitt said rather than have the selectmen, the finance board and the Representative Town Meeting go through each group's request individually, the recommendation is to have the first selectman designate a lump sum, similar to how the Board of Education budget is treated.

Each of the boards would vote on the lump sum, but not how it would be allocated or which organizations would receive funding.

The decision on which groups, and how much, would be made either by an appointed volunteer committee or a professional charitable foundation.

"We're clearly not experts in the field," DeWitt said, of the non-profits. The recommendations also call for the establishment of criteria like eligibility requirements, purpose and use of funds, performance and financial benchmarks. "There should be a cost-benefits analysis," DeWitt said.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said it would be a mistake to categorize the money non-profits receive from the town as a donation. "These are people that are literally providing services to the town," he said. "Right now, I haven't found a lot of overlap in services" between the town and the non-profits.

DeWitt agreed that there seemed to be "very few" overlaps.

The committee approved the recommendations the night before last week's selectmen's meeting, by a 4 to 0 vote, with one abstention. That one abstention was Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, who also serves on the committee. "I didn't feel I had enough time to work through it and get feedback," she said.

Selectman Kevin Kiley said of the non-profit funding recommendation, with the 2014-15 budget process already started, "I don't see there being enough time or bandwidth to get that done."

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