2 percent isn’t too much to ask

Debbie Nuss and Geri Simon

By A Contributor

We wish that Mr. Felber had contacted us for his story Sunday, “SOS plan would boost funds 33 percent,”  on the social services funding petition. If he had, we would have gladly provided information and details that would have prevented the fact errors made.

Our petition does indeed direct that 2 percent of the general fund be spent on social services each year. Why? Because that is about the percentage social services spending has been each year for the last 10 years. Since we wanted to preserve funding and prevent it from being cut or eliminated, that’s a reasonable figure.

The statement that the percentage has never been 2 percent is wrong. In 2002 and 2004 that’s exactly what the social services budget was as a percentage of the general fund budget. The percentage has remained at about that 2-percent level for 10 years. Some years it’s been at 1.7 percent or 1.8 percent or 1.9 percent. So “about 2 percent” is accurate. It’s just as accurate as Mr. Felber claiming that the city’s budget is “just short of $25 million” when the actual amount is $24,348,374.

In 2012, Social Services Ad-visory Board funding dipped to $373,600 (1.53 percent of the general fund). Why? The board recommended no funding for Man-hattan Day Care. Had Manhattan Day Care been funded at its requested and previous level -— $65,000 — SSAB spending would have been about $438,600, still 1.8 percent of the general fund, or “about 2 percent,” just as we have said.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the real dollar amount in city money available for social services is indeed 33 percent more if a 2-percent of general fund spending level is required. That’s about $123,000 more. That seems like a pretty small amount when you consider the overall general fund budget is just short of $25 million. Yet, it is a significant amount if distributed among the agencies caring for our friends and neighbors who need help from time to time.

It’s also significant when you consider that the agencies don’t always receive the amounts they request. It’s significant when you consider that other agencies might like to apply but do not because they know they could take funds away from the agencies currently being funded. It’s significant because we know the demand for social services is increasing, not decreasing, as our population grows.

The notion that the community should consider a “paradigm shift” in the way social services are funded because property taxes are too high is really just a shorthand way for City Commis-sioner Wynn Butler to say he wants to cut and eventually eliminate city spending on social services. He’s made it clear he doesn’t think that’s government’s job. He’s also said that if social service agencies and the churches just did a better job of fundraising, social service agencies would have more money. The social service agencies and churches are already doing all they can to raise funds. 

We think the proposed “paradigm shift” has more to do with a different philosophy of government than it does with lowering property taxes. We don’t think the community supports his “paradigm shift;” nor is the case for it supported by the facts. 

The bottom line is that there is no critical financial reason to de-fund social services.  Social service funding has not increased property taxes. Funding for social services expressed as mill levy has decreased over the past 10 years. At its highest it was 1.405 mills in 2002 and at its lowest it was 0.897 in 2009. The SSAB and the agencies it funds have operated well within limited means for the past decade. Our petition would ensure that same level of funding — 2 percent of the general fund budget.

Besides, the social service agencies did not create the debt for downtown which is the focus of city commissioners who are set on reducing property taxes. Why should the social service agencies and the people they serve suffer when they are not responsible for creating the debt?

The push to reduce and ultimately eliminate social service spending by the city is about reducing the size of government and nothing else. It’s about denying funds that help the poor, the less privileged and those most in need in our community. 

We do not believe in that philosophy. We believe that government has a responsibility to take care of those in need. It should protect and empower the most vulnerable of its citizens. We want Manhattan to continue to embrace that philosophy of government and to continue to fund social services. We think most Manhattan residents agree and support our effort to Save Our Social Services (SOS) by ensuring continued help from the city.

Manhattan residents Debbie Nuss and Geri Simon are co-chairs of Save Our Social Services.

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