by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona County Council plans to keep its funding for local service organizations largely flat in 2022, denying several requests for additional funding from organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and local libraries.
At the end of last month, the county council tentatively approved modest increases in funding for the Senior Advocacy Center, a program of the Winona Friendship Center that helps seniors apply for health insurance and other social services. , and the Winona Advocacy Center, which serves survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The board declined requests for increased funding from the Winona County Historical Society, Visit Winona, Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Big Brothers Big Sisters and local libraries.
Decisions were all made by consensus, with the exception of increasing funding for the Advocacy Center in Winona – which was passed 3-2 with the support of board members Marie Kovecsi, Chris Meyer and Greg Olson. – and a proposal to increase the funding of Big Brothers Big Sisters. – which failed 2-3, with Olson voting against. County board members Steve Jacob and Marcia Ward opposed both increases.
“This philanthropic donation of property tax money is very difficult for me,” Ward said. In total, the county plans to donate $ 642,000 next year to organizations ranging from local food departments to the county fair.
The county council was split at the defense center’s request for a $ 500 increase, from $ 15,300 to $ 15,760.
While acknowledging that the amount was small, Jacob said. “Every time it’s at the expense of the taxpayer, and someone has to stand up for the people who are going to pay for it.” He added, arguing for keeping funding levels stable, “We could talk about decreases instead of increases, but the average pitch keeps them where they were.”
The Advocacy Center provides essential services to people in need, and since most of its funding comes from private donations, the county benefits a great deal from a small contribution, Meyer argued. “We get more than what we pay for, and on top of that, these are the kind of services that also avoid future hardship for people,” she said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters had requested an increase from $ 15,000 to $ 30,000, with staff saying they would use the money to increase the number of Winona County youth served by their mentorship program. It currently serves 30 children and adolescents in the county.
Meyer and Kovecsi both said that during the juvenile justice listening sessions last winter, community members called for more mentoring programs and other support services for at-risk youth. Adding more local mentors is an opportunity to meet some of these demands, they said.
“These are preventions [measures]”Kovecsi argued.” You can pay now or cause a lot of quality of life problems for families and pay later. ”
Olson voted with Jacob and Ward to reject Big Brothers Big Sisters’ request, saying doubling what the organization got last year was too much.
Librarians from Winona Public Library, St. Charles Public Library, and La Crescent Public Library lined up at a meeting earlier this fall to explain how the money they were looking for would be used: providing on-site computer access, adding take-out internet hotspots for people without internet access, as well as books and programs. “Internet access remains a basic household need in the county,” said Lezlea Dahlke, director of the Winona Public Library.
Kayce Gentry of La Crescent Public Library highlighted a recent investigation into how citizens wanted Winona County to use COVID relief funds. “When we ask, what do you need? What can the county do for you? Their response is to fund the library, ”she said. Describing the maintenance of the library’s public access computers, she said, “These costs are increasing. Even just providing the same service costs more, before even talking about the increased service we want to provide. “
The county council plans to keep funding for local libraries at $ 258,884 – which is split among county libraries – an amount that has not been increased for several years.
The board plans to allocate $ 41,785 to the Senior Advocacy Center, an increase from $ 29,500 last year, but less than the $ 50,223 requested by the organization. Earlier this fall, county administrator Ken Fritz said if the Senior Advocacy Center did not exist, much of their work would fall to the county social service staff.
The county council will take a final vote on the 2022 budget later this month.