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Agency hopes gifts restore services

By Patti S. Borda

Sunday - 7/3/2011, 6:31am  ET

The Frederick Community Action Agency is hoping that donations will help restore $120,000 or more this year to assistance programs formerly supported by Frederick County.

For the fiscal year that started Friday, the county did not make the requested $120,000 contribution to the agency, which provides services to the homeless, poor and medically underserved. The agency estimated expenditures of $2.89 million for this year.

Mike Spurrier, agency director, said he wished the county had focused more on a 1993 resolution that acknowledged the agency provides services to county and city residents in poverty.

In 1993, the Board of County Commissioners president and the Frederick mayor signed a joint resolution designating the city's community center a "community action agency for the purpose of providing programs and services to assist disadvantaged and limited income residents of Frederick County and to alleviate the problems and effects of poverty in ... Frederick County."

Until fiscal 2011, the city and county designated specific funding for the agency. In 2011, the previous Board of County Commissioners told the city it would not designate a contribution to the agency, but would count its contribution as part of the $5 million tax reimbursement to the city.

That reimbursement, called the tax equity payment, is designed to reimburse taxes collected by the county for services provided by the city, such as law enforcement and planning. For fiscal 2012 the county again paid $5 million in tax equity.

The Community Action Agency received about $700,000 from the city, and had requested $120,000 from the county to be used for the agency's nutrition, medical and housing programs, Spurrier said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development cut its Housing Counseling Grant Program for this year, which reduced the agency's funding by $38,000.

The agency's food bank serves 600 to 800 households a month, andthe primary health clinic treats more than 1,500 uninsured and medically underserved adults and children annually, Spurrier said.

The Medbank program gets free prescriptions for patients, the case management program finds resources for low-income families and individuals, and the housing counseling program educates first-time homebuyers about the purchase process and helps families in danger of defaulting on mortgages.

If all goes well with the agency's fundraising effort, Spurrier said it would raise $150,000 or more from industry and individuals.

"We are receiving some donations," Spurrier said.

Commissioners President Blaine Young wrote a personal check to the agency for $150, but he does not support using taxpayer money for nongovernment agencies or charities. He said the county is continuing to wean nongovernment entities from public funding.

"What right do I have to reach into your pocket?" Young said. "This wasn't a criticism of the Community Action Agency."

Commissioners David Gray and Paul Smith recommended some county funding for the agency.

Young said in 2012 the county is using $10.5 million for public programs that serve the poor and disadvantaged through health, transportation, housing and aging services. He would like to gradually reduce those annual costs and to encourage self-reliance.

"I'm not sure there is a net positive ... (from) the expansion of government programs," Young said.

Copyright 2011 The Frederick News-Post. All rights reserved.