BRENTWOOD — Selectmen will seek the town's opinion on whether to change a long-standing policy on how the town supports local nonprofits.
Under Brentwood's current policy, charitable organizations seeking the town's support present a petitioned warrant article. However, for more than 20 years, any nonprofit receiving the town's nod for funding three years in a row no longer has to petition for support: their request automatically goes into the budget.
Last year the then-board discussed finding an alternate way to support the town's most vulnerable residents, with the discussion being reopened during this year’s budget cycle.
"I have a hard time with us using tax money to fund these charitable organizations," said Selectmen Chairman Bob Mantegari. He said he would rather write a check to groups whose mission he believes in, and leave town money for funding town operations.
The current system also has a nickel-and-dime aspect, he pointed out. "We donate $500 here, $750 there, $3,000 there."
The board has been mulling the idea of scrapping the current policy in favor of designating a budgetary "lump sum" to be spent on residents' needs, and capping the amount.
The current budget includes funding for eight nonprofits which passed the three-year test, according to Town Administrator Karen Clement. In addition, Clement said, six or seven charities have "fallen off" and were taken out of the budget for various reasons.
Currently funded "regional associations" include the American Red Cross, Seacoast Mental Health, Lamprey Health Care, Child and Family Services, Richie McFarland Center, Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, Rockingham Community Action and Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or R.S.V.P.
The current amount for budget-funded charities is $15,037, with another $8,000 expected in this year's petitioned articles.
Petitioned warrant articles include CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), $500; Haven, $3,050; One Sky, $1,500; TASC, a transportation nonprofit, $750; and Chamber Children's Fund, $1,000.
"It's not that these organizations haven't provided good service," Selectman Bill Faria said. "It's a sense we've gotten that people would not like taxpayer money used to fund charities."
But cutting the funds entirely isn't the answer, Faria added. "The people in this town need what they need in order to make life whole," he said.
The board is working on an alternative plan which would have the lump sum appropriated in the budget and capped. Those needing help would submit an application through Clement, who would forward it to the welfare director. The welfare director would then make a decision to grant the request with the assistance of an advisory board.
Mantegari said the advisory board would provide oversight and improve the town's perception in the area of charitable giving.
Mantegari said that doesn't mean that the current charities would be left out. The aid would just be more targeted. If a Brentwood child needs services at the Richie MacFarland Center or a Brentwood family needs fuel assistance from Rockingham Community Action, two of the currently-funded charities, they would still receive the help.
Selectmen said they will run the proposal past the Budget Committee and residents at Saturday’s Town Meeting before taking further action.