Editorial: Nonprofits wait and see

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2011

The Rowan Arts Council, Rowan Museum and the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council might be tempted to take ěRowanî out of their names after last weekís Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting. The board took an early budget vote to cut the groups out of its 2011-12 budget and reduce allocations to several other nonprofits by 10 percent.
But thereís no need for a name change, not yet. The commissionersí decision is only preliminary; the real vote comes when they consider the entire county budget later this spring. So why did they take up the issue last week?
According to Commissioner Carl Ford, who made the motion to cut the agencies, it was time. ěWeíve been kicking this idea around ever since Iíve been on the commission,î Ford said in a phone interview. He was ready to take action to reduce nonprofit spending and cut out some agencies altogether. ěIím not saying they donít do good things.î Here are the proposed cuts:
Rowan Arts Council, $22,991. Several people have asked him why the county funds the Arts Council, Ford said, and he didnít have an answer.
Rowan Museum, $19,000. The county gave Rowan Museum its building last year, Ford pointed out. That means the museum can once again rent space for receptions and other events at which alcohol is served ó a no-no on county property.
Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council, $3,500. Ford believes the county should help support the groupís Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities but not allocate other money to the council.
Within the countyís $129 million budget, the impact of these savings will be infinitesimal. But within the agenciesí budgets, the amounts are big money, and the cuts will hurt.
The Rowan Museum, for example, would be losing 10 percent of its annual budget if commissioners follow through, according to director Kaye Brown Hirst. That could force the museum to reduce hours or charge admission at its North Main Street facility, which unveils a new Civil War exhibit today. (Visitors are asked to make a donation.)
This comes at the worst time for nonprofits, because private donations and memberships have slowed, too. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports giving was down 11 percent at the nationís top 400 charities in 2009, while smaller organizations faced more drastic funding decreases. The situation has only gotten worse since then.
The across-the-board 10 percent cut in county allocations to all eligible nonprofits sounds feasible. But the 100 percent cuts deserve more study and explanation. The harm inflicted on an agency could greatly outweigh the benefit to the county. And then thereís the harm to the countyís image. On the surface, commissioners appear to have lost interest in the arts, history and racial harmony.
Say it isnít so.