Betty Lawrence has made some friends on her Rock Hill delivery route.
For 11 years now, Lawrence has volunteered twice a week to take meals to homebound residents of the Highland Park neighborhood, and some homes she’s been visiting almost the entire time.
“With some of them, I’ve met most of their families,” Lawrence said. “Some are just glad to have a person to talk to. I might be the only person who comes by all day.”
Lawrence delivers freshly prepared meals for the York County Council on Aging, one of several agencies that had been facing cuts as the York County Council considered eliminating what one councilman called “charitable giving” on behalf of the county government.
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But attempts to cut funding to those agencies failed Monday when the County Council declined to cut funding for nongovernmental “direct-assistance” programs.
Direct-assistance programs are not run by county departments; instead, they are nonprofits and state-supported agencies that provide a range of assistance and services to those in need, whether it’s support for someone struggling with substance abuse, a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault, or those living with physical and mental disabilities. In return, the agencies receive at least some mandated local government funding.
But in the budget the York County Council was asked to approve Monday, many of these programs are set to receive more than the required minimum – an extra $5,000 to $25,000 more, depending on the agency.
Councilman Michael Johnson made a motion to eliminate funding for a number of nongovernmental agencies, including the Council on Aging.
Other agencies targeted for cuts included Keystone Substance Abuse Services, the Disabilities and Special Needs Board, and Safe Passage, an agency that provides services to victims of childhood, sexual and domestic abuse. Also targeted for cuts were the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Lake Wylie Maritime Commission.
The total cost of funding those programs is $379,475 to county taxpayers.
With a 2 percent increase in property taxes proposed in the 2015-16 budget and several agencies in need of additional employees, nonessential funding had come under scrutiny.
Johnson, who proposed eliminating county spending on such agencies earlier in the budget process, said he would have liked to see all charitable giving phased out over the next three years.
“I don’t believe we should be in the business of funding nonprofits,” Johnson said. “All these agencies may be deserving of support, but not with our tax dollars.”
Alice Beckham of Rock Hill depends on those social services to help her get through the day. Lawrence has been delivering food to her for so long that she calls Beckham her “Southern mother.” Lawrence started bringing meals to Beckham’s residence when Beckham’s late husband, Clarence, whom everyone called “Spank,” was still alive.
“If I ever met anyone, I had to say I was Spank’s wife,” Beckham says when she gets her meal delivered.
“Spank always loved to get hot dogs and chili dogs. He would wait until he saw (Lawrence) coming up the porch and say, ‘Hey, baby,’ because he called everybody ‘baby.’ I miss him so much.”
Beckham has trouble getting around now and depends on those of her 10 children who still live nearby, along with her many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
In addition to the lunchtime delivery from the Council on Aging, Beckham also has a housekeeper occasionally come by to prepare meals and run errands for her. She says Lawrence’s deliveries are a big help.
“They always bring me a good meal,” she said. “They have a variety of meat and vegetables, and they bring you desert.”
Beckham is one of 109,817 seniors throughout York County who have been served either at home or at one of four dedicated senior centers in the past year. The county’s contribution to the agency doesn’t directly pay for the meals, but when the funds are used as matching money for a federal grant it helps pay for a lot of the Council on Aging’s activities.
Tax dollars as ‘leverage’
Johnson told the rest of the York County Council his concern is that county contributions are often used for match-making grants.
“They’re using local tax dollars as leverage with the federal government to get more taxpayer dollars, and I’m not in favor of that,” he said.
Other council members were sympathetic to the argument. Councilman Chad Williams said he was approached years ago by a charity asking for county funding but was told the county didn’t want to add any nonprofits to the budget, “because the ones we are funding we have to keep funding.”
Most of the agencies examined then still receive county funding.
Others pushed back Monday on the idea the agencies needed cutting, both because of the effect it would have on residents and on the county at large.
“I don’t believe we want to be a bare-bones county like some in our area that can’t attract new business or new residents,” said Councilman William “Bump” Roddey. “Who wants to live with just the bare minimum?”
Ultimately, the threat to the agencies’ funding wasn’t as great as it seemed. Johnson’s motion died because no other member would second it, and the agencies’ funding was approved with the rest of the budget.
As a result, Beckham will continue to get her biweekly visits from Lawrence through this time next summer.
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Elsewhere in the budget
The York County Council has approved a $422.9million operating budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year beginning July 1. Here are some highlights:
▪ The budget includes a 1.7 percent tax increase on property owners, a raise that grows to a full 2 percent on unincorporated residents when new rates for rural fire protection and solid-waste collection are factored in.
▪ Five special fire districts will also see tax increases of between 0.2 and 0.5 percent, including $1 million for a new fire station in the Riverview Fire District, $500,000 for six new firefighters in the Flint Hill Fire District and $15,000 for two part-time positions in the Newport Fire Department. The Bethel and Lesslie departments also will have increases.
▪ The budget also includes an additional $100,252 for the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and $115,614 more for the circuit’s public defender.