SALEM - Faced with four citizen petitions seeking funding for local nonprofit groups, the Salem Board of Selectmen agreed that now isn't the time for charitable giving.
Voters will still have the final say on the four warrant items at the polls come March. Following a lengthy discussion during Monday night's public budget hearing, board members said they couldn't in good conscience support petitioned items asking voters to approve town funding requests totaling $10,000 for the Salem Boys and Girls Club; $10,000 for the Upper Room Family Resource Center; $5,000 for A Family Promise; and $4,500 for Salem Youth Softball.
Boys Club Executive Director Michael Centor said the petitioned item is intended to assist in funding for the club's Career Readiness program. The club, located next door to the Salem Municipal Center, has an average daily attendance of around 300 local youth, according to Centor.
But Selectman Stephen Campbell said the town needs to draw the line somewhere and noted that funding requests for both the Boys Club and the Upper Room, which offer similar programs for at-risk teens, is "a duplication of efforts."
"My view on giving to nonprofits has been the same since I served on the budget committee. They're good organizations that provide great services for people . but government shouldn't be choosing individual groups to support because we can't choose them all," Campbell said. "This sort of fundraising should really be done by individuals."
Fellow Selectman Everett McBride Jr. noted that just because the selectmen decline to support an article doesn't mean voters will do the same.
"It's up to you to go out and get the support from the community" he told Centor.
Centor said the Boys and Girls Club had a funding deficit last year, and the organization is currently trying to obtain federal funding to assist in its daily programs. While no one from the Upper Room was present at Monday's meeting, Selectman Campbell noted that the "at least a half-year's supply of money" remains on the organization's books.
"The heart wants to take over, but they're in better shape than we are," he said. "I think the Salem taxpayers need the money more than they do."
Betty Gay, who spoke on behalf of A Family Promise, said the organization would play an important role in placing area homeless families in temporary housing.
"We're offering a service the town would already pay for," she said.
Melanie Nesheim, president of A Family Promise and a resident of Windham, said families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
"Adults with children now make up 51 percent of the homeless population in Rockingham County and one in four is a child," she said. "Yet we have no place for them to go in Salem."
The local charity branch, based out of area churches, was formed several years ago in hopes of assisting countless area families that have found themselves homeless. Nesheim said their hope is to begin offering regular services next month.
Salem Youth Softball is also seeking $4,500 to be used mainly toward fieldwork, said Tom Ramsdell, the organization's president.
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