Leg­isla­tive lead­ers tackle ques­tions of how to help

Greenwich Time - - NEWS - By Ken Bor­suk kbor­[email protected]­wichtime.com

GREEN­WICH — Even as the need grows for hu­man ser­vices in the town, there is less state fund­ing avail­able to help, the town’s lead­ers warned as they gath­ered Thurs­day morn­ing for the Green­wich United Way’s an­nual leg­isla­tive break­fast at Town Hall.

Res­i­dents should brace for the worst, with a na­tional re­ces­sion pos­si­ble, said out­go­ing state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36, who painted a dire pic­ture of the chal­lenges ahead.

“We all got into the busi­ness of pub­lic of­fice to help those who are in need, and we tried for many, many years to do so,” said Frantz, who lost his bid for re-elec­tion. “Connecticut seems to be on this tra­jec­tory that’s not go­ing to de­liver the goods, mean­ing the re­sources, that non­prof­its need to pro­vide ser­vices to those in need. At the end of the day, we have to get our state back in or­der to gen­er­ate rev­enues so we can be in a po­si­tion to re­pair our balance sheet and sup­port all of th­ese won­der­ful groups.”

State Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149, a mem­ber of the leg­isla­tive Fi­nance, Rev­enue and Bond­ing Com­mit­tee, said tough de­ci­sions have to be made when it comes to fund­ing.

“It is im­per­a­tive that we con­tinue to stay un­der the $1.9 bil­lion bond cap and that we re­main stead­fast in fund­ing needs, not wants and must haves, not nice to haves,” Floren said. “My goal is to de­sign a bi­par­ti­san bond bill that em­pha­sizes ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially school safety and se­cu­rity and (vo­ca­tional and tech­ni­cal) schools. We need to in­crease our in­ven­tory of af­ford­able hous­ing and the school-based and com­mu­nity health cen­ters. They are so ef­fec­tive and ac­ces­si­ble.”

Frantz and Floren took part on the Green­wich United Way’s packed panel, along with state Reps. Fred Camillo, R-151, and Michael Bocchino, R-150. Stephen Meskers, who will be sworn in as the new Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the 150th District next month, and Alexan­dra Berg­stein, who will be the new state se­na­tor for the 36th District, also were on the panel, along with First Select­man Peter Te­sei.

At the break­fast, Berg­stein was asked how non­prof­its could get fund­ing to help at-risk pop­u­la­tions dur­ing times of fi­nan­cial change and un­cer­tainty. First, the state bud­get has to be ad­dressed, she said, then money could be freed up to fund crit­i­cal ser­vices to the state’s youth, the poor and the el­derly.

“We need to plan ahead for sit­u­a­tions where the fund­ing may be squeezed. So to that end I would pro­pose that we plan ahead by hav­ing our own rainy day fund for lo­cal non­prof­its,” Berg­stein said. “The money would not be used ex­cept un­der ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, which would be de­fined by a coun­cil of non­prof­its. The Green­wich United Way al­ready has such an en­tity. They have the Com­mu­nity Plan­ning Coun­cil, which con­ducts needs as­sess­ments on a reg­u­lar ba­sis in the com­mu­nity. We can put money aside for them to use as a rainy day fund.”

Dur­ing the au­di­ence ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion, Berg­stein was asked who should set up that fund. Te­sei said it is “abun­dantly clear” there isn’t a need for a rainy day fund be­cause Green­wich can meet those needs when prob­lems arise in town.

But Berg­stein said non­prof­its could fund the ef­fort with­out gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment. That would cut down on gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy and give the non­prof­its an op­por­tu­nity to de­ter­mine where money was best spent, she said.

Both Bocchino and Meskers agreed that non­prof­its need to col­lab­o­rate more. The groups should work to­gether in­stead of com­pete for lim­ited dol­lars while of­fer­ing the same ser­vices, Bocchino said.

“We’re los­ing rev­enue,” he said. “That piece of pie that we’re go­ing after is go­ing to shrink dra­mat­i­cally over the next two years. If 501(c)3s and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions come to­gether and col­lab­o­rate a lit­tle bit more ... we can make cer­tain we’re not leav­ing any­one be­hind.”

Meskers, who has 14 years of ex­pe­ri­ence on the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Town Meet­ing’s Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, said that kind of col­lab­o­ra­tion could help close the achieve­ment gap and help stu­dents in need.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion must come among hu­man ser­vices agen­cies and non­profit groups as well as at a town level, with the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, the RTM and oth­ers in­volved.

“Clos­ing the achieve­ment gap is not only a goal, it is an im­per­a­tive,” Meskers said. “Clos­ing that achieve­ment gap is cru­cial to how we de­fine our­selves as a so­ci­ety and how we move for­ward on the goals of eq­ui­table op­por­tu­nity.”

For ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly early ed­u­ca­tion, Floren of­fered her strong com­mit­ment for state fund­ing.

“Although I ap­plaud and to­tally sup­port the work of the Green­wich United Way and other non­profit providers in this ef­fort, I don’t think gov­ern­ment can ab­di­cate one of its core mis­sion re­spon­si­bil­i­ties: pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion,” she said. “I pledge to do ev­ery­thing in my power to re­in­state and main­tain ad­e­quate fund­ing for early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion go­ing for­ward.”

Frantz cred­ited many in the crowd — in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from sev­eral non­prof­its as well as mem­bers of the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, Board of Es­ti­mate and Tax­a­tion and RTM — for their work to get ser­vices to Green­wich’s most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents.

“There’s a lot of he­roes in this room here to­day,” he said.

He specif­i­cally ap­plauded Shari Shapiro from Kids in Cri­sis, which lost all of its state fund­ing sev­eral years ago and has kept go­ing as the only area 24/7 provider of emer­gency shel­ter and coun­sel­ing ser­vices to chil­dren, youths and fam­i­lies.

“Shari Shapiro, and I keep com­ing back to Kids in Cri­sis, has been deal­ing with this for years now be­cause the state doesn’t have the money,” Frantz said. “The state com­pletely cut off the fund­ing and Kids in Cri­sis is still here and still thriv­ing and still help­ing kids in des­per­ate need. You’re a shin­ing light.”

Ken Bor­suk / Hearst Connecticut Me­dia

First Select­man Peter Te­sei, right, and State Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149, take part in a dis­cus­sion of hu­man ser­vices needs in town at the Green­wich United Way’s an­nual leg­isla­tive break­fast on Thurs­day.

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