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Passionate Pleas in Pink for Nonprofits At Watauga County Commissioners Budget Hearing Tuesday Night

During the public hearing regarding the budget, nonprofit supporters packed the commissioners board room. Many of these same people stayed around to listen to the hearing and commissioners vote on the abolishment of the local DSS board. Photo by Jesse Wood
During the public hearing regarding the budget, nonprofit supporters, many of whom were dressed in pink, packed the commissioners board room. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

May 22, 2013. As is the norm during each budget season, supporters for area nonprofits spoke passionately during the public hearing on the upcoming budget at the Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Many of the 30 people who signed up for public comment on the budget spoke fervently for the work nonprofits do. A few speakers nearly broke down in tears speaking before the board, and nearly deafening applause from the standing-room-only audience followed many of the passionate speeches.

Community members, many of whom wore pink in support for all nonprofits,  spoke on behalf of Valle Crucis Community Park, Mountain Alliance, OASIS, Community Care Clinic, W.A.M.Y. Community Action, Green Valley Community Park, Western Youth Network, Foscoe-Grandfather Community Center and Hunger & Health Coalition.

A majority of the speakers, though, spoke on behalf of the Hospitality House of Boone, which has received zero funds for its shelter from the county for the past two years and are allocated for zero in the upcoming budget. Watauga County did donate the land for the Hospitality House’s shelter. This year, though, the Hospitality House requested $23,360.

Wes Weaver, a Hospitality House board member, said that donations were down this year by 25 percent and the organization has already exhausted its reserve funds.

“I ask you to reconsider the judgment so far,” Weaver said. “I also invite you to know and come see that the Hospitality House is a hand up not a handout.”

Kay Dixon, chair of the Hospitality House board, said that the commissioners were providing funds for homeless animals but not homeless people. She added that 74 percent of the people who stay at the Hospitality House leave with housing plans.

Todd Carter, director of development for the Hospitality House, gave a hypothetical rundown of what would happen if the shelter closed. He mentioned that 225 Watauga residents, which is the number of Wataugans the Hospitality House actually served last year, would end up sleeping on private property and be arrested for trespassing. DSS would then take the kids from the parents, and the county would be left paying for the inmates at a cost of $64 a day per person – versus $32 a day per person that it costs the Hospitality House to serve the homeless.

“We offer a lot more than jail – continued education programs, resume workshops, food shelters,” Carter said. “It’s your choice. Do the math. From where I am sitting, you are making a fiscally irresponsible choice.”

Allison Jennings, food service coordinator for the Hospitality House, said that the Hospitality House served 10,000 meals and 500 food boxes last month for those in the community. She mentioned that schools release for the summer very soon, which is the only hot meal for many families. 

“Thousands of parents depend on schools to provide meals … Where will families go to feed children?” Jennings said, adding that budgets for federal and state food programs continues to be slashed.

Several spoke on behalf of Mountain Alliance, which received $8,700 after it requested $15,000. Speaking about the outdoor-education program, one student from a low-income family said that “for the first time a price tag wasn’t holding me back from reaching the stars.”

Mark Gould, treasurer for Mountain Alliance, said the county benefits from the program, which “helps keep kids in school and develops responsible leaders” in the community.

Others spoke for nonprofits in general.

Sam Zimmerman, a local builder, said he came out to the meeting because he saw the Foster Grandparent Program received zero funding this year. 

“I don’t envy you [being on the hot seat]. I know you didn’t shrink the pie,” Zimmerman said, adding that nonprofits provide services needed in the community and volunteers multiply those donations and services at cheap rates.

“This is cheap help [by the] over qualified and over motivated,” Zimmerman said. “Take another look at [the budget]. Maybe something else can be done.”

However, it’s likely the budget won’t change from where it sits today.

On Wednesday morning, Commissioner Perry Yates, who met the Democrats in the middle several times for nonprofit allocations during recent budget retreats, said he was satisfied with current allocations.

“Every organization is a good organization, [but] I am satisfied that we have done all we can do … There is only so much pie [to go around],” Yates said, adding that he didn’t want to make commitments over the balanced budget when the property revaluation have not been completed.

In the budget retreats, Democratic Commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy felt the nonprofits were not supported enough – especially in light of the sales tax distribution and its effect on the Town of Boone to be able to support nonprofits in its upcoming budget. 

“I think a lot of these [nonprofits] need a shot in the arm,” Welch said at the time.

The commissioners didn’t address the crowd regarding their budget allocations at Tuesday night’s meeting. 

For list of nonprofit allocations, click here: https://www.hcpress.com/special/watauga-county-board-of-commissioners-discuss-nonprofit-allocations-in-2013-14-fiscal-year-budget.html