GOSHEN — A special fund supported by trash fees will allow the county to send a little treasure to some local nonprofits.

The Elkhart County Commissioners approved requests for a combined $190,000 for two organizations Monday, following a $100,000 request they granted in April for another agency. The money comes from a special projects fund that they also created in April with $300,000 in it.

The fund uses tipping fees that the county landfill collects. Commissioner Frank Lucchese said Monday that the fund lets them support nonprofits that serve the county without using tax dollars.

“We made the fund so we could work with not-for-profits that give a benefit to the community,” he said.

He said providing funding for nonprofits was something the commissioners did years ago, before the County Council ended the practice after the 2008 recession. The county used to give about $2 million a year to around a dozen organizations.

The commissioners started using landfill fees last year to provide some funding to a few agencies that have a countywide impact. Lucchese said they decided to create a dedicated fund for it this year instead of making separate appropriations every year. 

He said the County Council still has to approve the funding but indicated that this lets the commissioners have more control over awarding the money and finding out how it will be used.

Public dollars

Three organizations received the funds in both 2018 and this year: The Elkhart County Council on Aging, the Center for Community Justice and Horizon Education Alliance. Aging received $90,000 this year and $75,000 last year, while Justice and Horizon each received $100,000 both years.

Ken Julian with Horizon Education Alliance presented the organization’s request for County Council’s final approve in May, and addressed the effect it has on the future workforce by connecting schools and businesses. Commissioner Suzie Weirick said the program isn’t just a nonprofit, but also an economic development tool.

Council approved the money on a 5-2 vote at the May 11 meeting, after members questioned the use of public dollars for a nonprofit and asked why schools can’t collaborate with businesses on their own.

On Monday, Tina Fraley, chief financial officer for the Council on Aging, told the commissioners her organization would use the money in its transportation and in-home care programs. She said the group tries to find extra money to help people who can’t afford its services but who also don’t qualify for assistance through Medicaid.

“A majority of our services in transportation are for Medicaid facilities for care, a lot of that for aging seniors in long-term care,” she said. “And then for in-home care, we’re going in and assisting individuals who no longer have the ability, the endurance to maintain a safe environment.”

Weirick voted against funding for the Council on Aging after remarking that, while it does good work, she doesn’t think government money should support social services.

“The Council on Aging does amazing work, I still just have an issue with government funding social services in general,” she said. “Government does way too many things, and I just have an issue with us extending that one step further. It doesn’t mean I don’t approve of what you do, just so you know that.”

The Center for Community Justice promotes reconciliation among victims, criminal offenders and the community. Irwin Larrier, executive director, said Monday that the organization’s efforts are multiplied by its partnerships with programs like the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office, schools in Elkhart County and the victim advocacy program

“We propose to look at health and safety in our community, and we continue to do that through providing pathways to healing for those in need,” he said. 

He noted that over 500 people a year go through the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program, over 100 people go through the Transitional and Recovery program, as they make the move from incarceration to living in society again, and roughly 1,000 people a year are served by the Victim Impact Panel. He said the organization expands on the work of the panel by offering peer recovery to people who were convicted of crimes rooted in substance abuse like driving while intoxicated.

He remarked on its crime prevention work with young people as well.

“One of the things that we’re going to do is, because of increasing challenges of what some would describe as the school-to-prison pipeline, we’re effectively working within the school systems in multiple contexts in order to break that cycle and get individuals ready to move forward with better choices,” Larrier said. “Social and emotional learning, restorative justice and of course, the age-old concept of forgiveness.”

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