COVID-19 has impacted Campbell County nonprofit agencies in many ways, including having to delay projects to serve the homeless or assisting domestic violence victims.
As the city braces for a big hit to sales tax revenues, it’s also being asked for more help from nonprofits as donations dwindle.
“I feel everybody’s pain,” Gillette City Councilman Tim Carsrud said during a recent council meeting. “I know everyone is struggling. Our nonprofits are probably struggling even (more) because they rely on people giving. There are so many people who have lost their jobs. There’s not a lot of money going around right now.”
The potential for domestic violence to increase as a result of people being isolated at home more during the pandemic also is a concern council members discussed.
That’s why they decided to recommend a $5,000 increase in city funding for the Gillette Abuse Refuge Foundation for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“Domestic violence adds to the chaos of our lives right now,” Carsrud said. “I hope when that happens, people reach out to the programs that are out there available to them and get the help that they need, both parties involved.”
GARF originally requested $69,000 for fiscal year 2020-21, but at a March 31 work session that funding was set at $64,000.
GARF Executive Director Margie McWilliams wrote a letter to the city requesting the additional money to help the agency deal with an anticipated increase in domestic violence.
Gillette Police Chief Jim Hloucal said the number of calls resulting in arrests related to domestic disputes have remained about the same from March 13 — the day President Donald Trump declared a national emergency concerning COVID-19 — through April 14 compared to the same time last year.
He also said he believes GARF receives a lot more calls from residents who may be hesitant to call police to report a domestic situation.
After reading McWilliams’ letter and listening to Hloucal, the City Council supported her request.
“GARF does play a big role for our community,” Mayor Louise Carter-King said. “I would like to ask that we consider the increase. Five-thousand dollars is not too much of an increase for an organization that hasn’t gotten an increase in a few years.”
But where would the extra money come from?
GARF is a social service agency that receives money from the city’s Optional 1% Sales Tax. The city commits up to 5% of that revenue for social service agencies like GARF.
The city’s finance team expects the 1% will bring in about $14.7 million in fiscal year 2020-21. At the 5% cap, social agencies would receive about $738,000, but the city is recommending increasing the allocation to 6.5%. That would increase the money available to nonprofits to $960,000.
Even with the change, the city would not be able to cover the $5,000 increase GARF is requesting and would have to either increase the cap again or use money from other areas like the general fund.
“There are some opportunities out there,” City Administrator Pat Davidson said.
GARF has not been only agency to make budget pitches to the city.
Council of Community Services
The Council of Community Services is seeking an increase from the $35,000 it received in fiscal year 2020 to $80,000 in 2020-21 because some of the one-time $250,000 payment it received from the city to go toward capital projects was used to help the community in other ways during COVID-19.
The agency used some of the money to fix sidings on a couple of its buildings. But after the coronavirus hit, the board decided to use money to “provide a little bit of relief to people in our community for things like rent just because it’s the right thing to do,” executive director Mikel Scott said.
“If people begin getting kicked out of apartments and end up homeless that will be harder on them and on our community in the long-run,” she said.
If the city approves the $80,000 in its upcoming budget, the Council of Community Services would split the money, with $50,000 going to its Soup Kitchen program while the emergency shelter would get $30,000.
The Council of Community Services received $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year, but it does not cover all the operating costs for the shelter that is now operating 24/7 instead of just at night. As for the Soup Kitchen, the agency does not get grants and it has to rely on financial and food donations, Scott said.
Also, the agency has been accepting more applications from people for help with rent, utilities “or other emergencies related to COVID-19,” she said. It has also seen 116 new families sign up for the Food Pantry since April 1.
“We normally don’t see that in a month or more,” Scott said.
The City Counil supported the request.
The city needs to be careful with its money, “but I appreciate their mission and support what they are doing,” Councilman Nathan McLeland said.
The Salvation Army is requesting $25,000, which is what the city recommends for its funding based on the services it offers the community.
The money would go toward helping prevent homelessness. It wouldn’t go into a pool of money for COVID-19, Salvation Army Director Jenny Nell Hartung said.
Gillette Main Street
A year ago, the City Council gave Gillette Main Street $20,000 for fiscal year 2020 after city staff recommended it give $15,000 from the general fund. The city also has told Main Street it would get $5,000 less each year.
Carter-King then said she would be in favor of giving the downtown association $20,000 for 2019-20 “with the caveat that, from now on, every year they can expect a $5,000 decrease.”
Five years ago, when Gillette Main Street first asked the city for money, the organization asked for a two-year commitment to help get a director. The agreement was that the organization wouldn’t need money from the city after those two years, she said.
COVID-19, however, has caused some downtown businesses to close and others to see declining revenues, which has altered Main Street’s situation.
The agency requested $20,000 again for fiscal year 2020-21 and while it did not change that request last week, Gillette Main Street Executive Director Jessica Seders said it could receive about $47,000 less than it budgeted for in the upcoming fiscal year.
“It’s a scary time right now for everybody,” she said, adding that while no one knows for sure how everything will turn out, “our income will be drastically cut.”
The agency still wants to put on its summer events like the annual Summer Festival and Car Show, but even if it goes on as planned, it will likely look different.
“Normally, we’d be able to make money through donations and sponsorships for events,” Seders said. “We don’t anticipate there will be much of that this year.”
When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the events go on, Seders said she hopes it will bring people downtown.
“That will be important when we look at recovery from COVID going forward,” she said.
Council members decided to stick with city staff’s recommendation of $15,000 for Gillette Main Street.
Carsrud said he only supported the increases for GARF and Council of Community Services because of how they help the community with providing shelters and food pantries.
“I just think those are probably have more importance,” he said. “I definitely appreciated the conversations we all had. It was nice to hear from them. It’s a pretty somber time right now. I’m hoping everybody can keep their heads above water.”