The Standish Town Council is expected to take up cuts to social service agencies by early next week, after hearing appeals from service providers to maintain town contributions in next year’s budget.

One town councilor, Carolyn Beigel, said Thursday she supported reinstating full funding for the service providers.

“My opinion is that society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people,” Beigel said. “A lot of them represent a population that can’t speak on their own behalf, that’s why they’re overlooked.”

The Town Council will take up the budget again on Monday and possibly extend the review to Wednesday. In Town Manager Gordon Billington’s proposed budget town contributions to 14 local organizations and social service agencies, including VNA Home Health Care and the American Red Cross, would drop from $25,000 to $4,000. The remaining $4,000 for the Standish Sno-Seekers snowmobile club comes from the state.

These cuts and others, including cutting all town employees back to a four-day work week, were proposed to make up for a $1.5 million decline in revenues without raising taxes.

“The fund shortfall is very, very real,” Billington has said. “We’ve scaled down to real essential public services.”

The council and the Budget Committee invited the service providers requesting donations to a hearing on March 19. The organizations asking for money ranged from small cemetery associations to large social service agencies with a broad coverage range, such as the People’s Regional Opportunity Program. Each representative spoke about how Standish residents, or in the case of cemetery associations, past residents, benefit from their services.

Steep Falls resident Harold Warren spoke for the Steep Falls Cemetery Association. He asked for $3,500 to supplement $2,000 from the association to fix a fence and do other maintenance.

“The bottom line here with us, there’s only my niece and myself that’s in the association,” Warren said. The cemetery borders a scenic highway, Warren said, and the fence is a disaster. The private organization does not usually ask for money, Warren added.

Even though the town is poor, Warren said, “Things do have to be done just the same, to keep up with the infrastructure.” For the sake of people who drive by and for those buried there, Warren asked the council to “see what you can do to help.”

Warren wasn’t the only person speaking on behalf of the town’s cemeteries. Pam Thomas asked the council for $250 to maintain the Standish Village Cemetery Association, which is half the amount the group asked for last year. A donation from the town could help with mowing and fixing gravestones.

Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of the People’s Regional Opportunity Program, listed off the number of Standish families helped by their services – 211 households received heating assistance, 178 families got help with social services and three homes were weatherized.

“The need for our services is increasing,” McCormick said, adding that the organization will be distributing an extra $5 million from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to weatherize 300 homes in the county.

Other representatives of social service agencies echoed McCormick – the need for help is increasing, they said, and town contributions are important for their budget and to leverage grant funding.

The Leavitt’s Mill Free Health Center, a volunteer-run clinic in Buxton that provides health services for people without insurance or with inadequate insurance, is getting busier and busier by the day, said Executive Director Patsy Thompson Leavitt.

“The current economic crisis has exploded our service in terms of requests for help,” Leavitt said.

Almost 1,000 clients have been treated at the clinic since it opened in 2003, Leavitt said, and 5.3 percent of those clients were from Standish.

Presidents of two library associations also told councilors that they depend on town funding to keep up with an increased demand for services.

Lynn Knowlton, president of the Richville Library Association, asked for $2,000 to fund the library, which is open two days a week. The library is run by volunteers, Knowlton said.

President of the Steep Falls Library Association Ida Atkinson said her library received more than 3,400 visits last year. The library offers numerous activities for the community, including a story hour for children, book club, craft groups and senior game days.

After comparing the Steep Falls Library with others in the state, Atkinson found that Standish has the lowest per capita funding for libraries from the town. On average, libraries receive $22.55 per person in town funding. Standish pays just 76 cents per person to libraries.

Realizing the tough economic times, Atkinson asked for $6,000, which is $2,000 less than the library received this year.

Jeanine Dalton, the preschool story reader, said the library was the first place she went when she moved to town.

“For families with young children, this is a really important place to come,” Dalton said. “I understand that we’re in a horrible economy, but I don’t think this is the time for the town to be making these rash decisions.”


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