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City Council reviews outside agency funding requests

March 21, 2019
BERLIN — Last Wednesday night's meeting of the Berlin City Council was a review of the Outside Agencies portion of the City's proposed budget for 2020.

Requests total $85,582, of which $7,416 has already been trimmed from the budget. The cuts, which hold expenditures level with last year's budgeted amounts, come from Northern Human Services, the Community Action Program, and the Main Street program. All three of these agencies requested increases over last year but have been held to 2019 numbers. Overall this portion of the budget is up by around $15,000 due to an increase for CASA, a request for North Country Home Health and Hospice which has not been funded in previous years, Child and Family Services which has also been unfunded in the past, and an increase in municipal association fees.

Several organizations sent representatives to discuss their needs with the Council. A common theme emerged: the demand for services in the Berlin area and Coös County in general, is growing. The region's opioid crisis, along with the loss of manufacturing jobs, contributes to the problem. On the supply side of this equation is a shrinking pool of state and federal funds to draw from.

Mayor Paul Grenier questioned several of the agency representatives to see if there were lapses in coverage for the needy and to see if the various agencies were coordinating their efforts. Although he was appreciative of the hard work being done by the various agencies, he expressed concern that some of the funds being allocated to them were supposed to be used to reduce operating deficits at the county's nursing homes. Grenier noted that Coös operates two nursing homes, a fact which contributes to the deficit. He also expressed concern that some services, like helping the homeless, may be duplicated.

"You have to do your best to take care of these social ills, but we're doing it at the expense of taxpayers who are funding huge nursing home deficits," Grenier remarked at one point during the meeting, "and when we're able to secure federal funds they're being diverted to a completely different mission."

Grenier, who is a Coös County Commissioner, also feels that "The state has developed a whole treatment network that it should pay for and is having the counties pay for it."

While funding for causes ranging from homelessness to aiding senior citizens continues to weigh on municipal budgets, one thing is clear. The region owes a debt of gratitude to the agencies working on shoestring budgets to address these issues.

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