Elkhart County Commissioner candidate Darryl Riegsecker is questioning the county's $450,000 annual contribution to a nonprofit group that works with more than 1,000 children and adults with cognitive disabilities.
Riegsecker, who is challenging incumbent Mike Yoder, said organizations like the Association for the Disabled of Elkhart County deserve funding, but the economy has strained the county's budget. Riegsecker said that he wants to sit down with ADEC to explore other funding options and how the group can boost its fundraising efforts.
“I'm not saying to cut them totally out of the county's budget,” Riegsecker said. “They could be cut back to a certain percentage for the year or they could be gradually cut back.”
The Bristol-based organization's budget is close to $14 million a year, according to ADEC president and CEO Paula Shively. About $13 million of that money is designated specifically for services contracted by the state while slightly more than $1 million comes from the United Way, county tax money and fundraising. The county's $450,000 contribution helps pay for two of ADEC's programs.
The guardianship program assists about 55 people who are declared by the courts unable to make decisions on their own. Shively said clients often need guidance in making important life decisions regarding health care.
ADEC has more than 50 vehicles that transport clients around the county who attend day programs or work at ADEC Industries, where they receive job training and learn how to live independently.
Shively said she does not want ADEC to be in the middle of a political battle but thinks people should understand the consequences of these programs not being supported financially. She said the county's contribution is an important part of ADEC's budget, noting that Indiana's constitution gives local governments an option to fund programs for people with disabilities.
“That's how deep the social contract is,” she said. “These people didn't sign up for this. They were just born with this problem, and they can't make it on their own. The rest of us have to support them.”
In addition to funding cuts at the state level, ADEC fell victim to a 6 percent reduction in 2010 when the county was forced to trim contributions to balance its budget. Yoder said he does not support further funding cuts to ADEC.
“There are areas of the government that we can work on to create efficiency without touching ADEC funding,” he said. “I think we can create those efficiencies without going after those who need our support and our compassion.”
Riegsecker pointed out that other agencies have faced funding cuts as well, noting that he serves on the corporate board for the Boys and Girls Club.
“The county doesn't give them any money, but that's not because we don't believe in their mission,” he said. “I wouldn't be on their board if I didn't. We just can't fund every not-for-profit there is in Elkhart County.”
The commissioners used to fund several nonprofit organizations with $350,000 in grants for specific programs, but that budget was cut in 2009.
Shively said ADEC has worked efficiently over the past few years to avoid laying off staff and cutting programs. Employees have not received pay raises, and many vacant positions remain unfilled, she said.
ADEC hosts one large fundraiser every year. About 300 cyclists raised $30,000 at last year's Ride-a-Bike event. Shively said the event not only helps ADEC with fundraising but also gets children from local schools involved with supporting people with disabilities. This year's fundraiser will be May 19. The organization also holds membership drives and solicits donations throughout the year. The group has more than 300 members.
Riegsecker said ADEC could improve its fundraising efforts.
“I'm not saying they would have to raise $450,000, but in years past the county has been in a great position to be able to hand money out like that,” he said. “The county is not in a financial position where they can just hand out a lot of money like that anymore.”