05/22/07 — Goldsboro Council starts work on budget

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Goldsboro Council starts work on budget

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 22, 2007 1:45 PM

Goldsboro City Council members held a public hearing Monday to give residents a chance to raise concerns regarding the proposed $46.5 million 2007-08 fiscal year budget -- and only one person took advantage of the opportunity.

Dr. Clark Gaither, medical director of Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, or WATCH, noted that the program had requested $20,000 to cover operating expenses and was denied.

And while officials at City Hall said it is not atypical for the city government to cut spending on non-profits, Gaither offered "a final plea" to the council.

City Manager Joe Huffman said he can understand why Gaither showed up at the meeting. The WATCH program does great things for the city and county, he said.

But as new projects are approved, leaving Goldsboro "somewhat strapped for cash," there is simply not enough money to fill every request.

"When you're dealing with a tight budget, and we are, it's really difficult to increase spending on non-profits," Huffman said.

Gaither said the request represented "a little over 5 percent" of the program's annual budget, which is about $350,000 for the year.

"We requested $20,000 and they didn't allocate any the first round, so we went last night to plead our case," he said this morning. "We felt that we should ask for the ($20,000) because 14 of the 20 stops (WATCH makes) each month are in the city. We felt that we should give the city the opportunity to contribute to our program."

Huffman said this morning there was no way to know if council members will decide, after all, to allocate the funds. But if history is any indication, he would doubt it.

"I'm not sure what the council will decide to do," he said. "But as far as I know, the city has never funded it."

Gaither said whatever council's decision turns out to be, he is glad his organization gave it one final shot.

"We made our best case for the allocation, and they'll decide and let us know," he said.

But should the city opt not to contribute any money, he shrugged off the negative connotation.

"We will get by somehow," Gaither said. "We have always managed to for the last seven years, but it's getting harder and harder to find sources of funding, even though we provide the most-efficient care."

WATCH covers an estimated one-third of the uninsured population in the county, he added, which he termed "remarkable."

Sissy Lee-Elmore, executive director for WATCH, said the city has historically turned down funding of the program except at the outset.

"In the very beginning, they gave us money to assist with the initial community survey back in 1996, 1997 and that's the only time they have ever given us any money," she said today.

"I have requested funding from them for the last, I would say, four years and I have been turned down."

Despite sparsity in funding, the needs continue to rise, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said.

"We serve 7,500 uninsured patients, which is 40 percent of the uninsured population of Wayne County. We have provided almost 40,000 patient visits in the last seven years, and $3.1 million in drugs for the people with chronic illness," she said.

Supporting the program financially not only benefits local citizens, she noted, but improves the chances of receiving additional grant money.

"Whenever I go to other resources for grants, they always ask what the local entities have contributed," she said. "They all prefer that we have some local funding."

While the county commission has stepped up to the plate with monetary support, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said she would like to see the city respond in kind.

"We feel like we serve the people of the city and help them manage their health so that they can be productive citizens," she said.