Nonprofit groups deal with county funding cuts

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JANESVILLE - Rock County is slashing overall nonprofit funding based on a state legal opinion from September.

The county is cutting funding to four area nonprofits completely as part of next year's budget proposal.

An opinion from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel was the guiding rationale behind the sweeping changes, with the county to provide $120,443 to nine nonprofit organizations next year.

The county provided 11 groups with $248,015 this year. New funding requests were brought forward Wednesday by Rock County Administrator Josh Smith at the Rock County Board of Human Services Committee meeting. State statute prohibits counties from making direct financial contributions to nonprofits unless specifically authorized, according to Schimel's opinion. Funding is allowed for specific seniors assistance, fairs, historical societies, tourism and victims of domestic abuse.

Groups missing out on funding this year include HealthNet of Rock County, NeighborWorks, Rock Valley Community Programs and United Way Blackhawk Region.

Rock Valley Community Programs was solely funded by the county to offer community service hours as an alternative for those who faced court fines or probation after conviction. The county funded RVCP with $73,505 for its two main programs. One full-time position will be redirected within the county, and the funding cut was expected.

The funding cut from RVCP will be dedicated to the county's Evidence-Based Decision Making fund as part of its ongoing overhaul of the county justice system. The county budget has set aside $158,584 for the Evidence Based Decision Making program for next year.

The county began the initiative in 2014 along with other counties in the state seeking criminal justice reforms.

In Rock County, the Evidence Based Decision Making program goal will eventually implement pre-trial risk assessments, a pre-charge diversion program and an enhanced deferred prosecution program. It also is to provide enhanced information sharing between Rock County Human Services and law enforcement.

"We had already had conversations with RVCP and with the justice system stakeholders about the potential for reallocating those funds to other, higher-priority projects," Smith said. "...There had already been ongoing discussions about moving those funds ..., so after the AG's opinion when we felt we had to make the changes, I continued on the path that we had been discussing and recommended moving them to the EBDM account."

HealthNet will lost nearly $60,000 in county funding directly offered for services to uninsured or under-insured county residents that rely on the free medical clinic.

CEO Ian Hedges said the cut could be equated to 386 of the over-1,500 patients seen at the clinic losing access to lab work, x-rays, prescriptions and the continuation of care.

"This lose of continuity of care would mean increases to emergency rooms in the county, ambulatory services and crisis stabilization for patients with mental illness," Hedges said.

Smith and Hedges both said the county could enter into a contract to provide funding, but no agreement has been discussed and the Wisconsin County Association has been unresponsive to requests by HealthNet to discuss any future contract.

"We don't want to lose any of those services that we provide," Hedges stressed. "We value our partnerships with the county."

HealthNet recently authored a report on sober living and was a key player in securing an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer for the Rock County Health Department, on top of the free clinical services provided.

The state county association would be key for any future funding source since it would need to provide the Rock County Board with a legal interpretation for the structuring of any future contract.

At United Way, which will lose $4,000 in county funds, CEO Mary Fanning-Penny said the group would "attempt to identify alternative funding sources." for the 211 community service information line. Last year, nearly 3,000 calls were placed by region residents to the informational help line. Needs ranged from how to locate housing; food assistance; utilities and medical aid and mental health counseling options.

"Marketing of 211 is often grassroots and word of mouth, so unfortunately our residents and neighbors may not be aware this 24 hour, 7-days a week information and referral help line exists," Fanning-Penny said.

Representatives NeighborWorks and RVCP could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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