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Arc program among those bracing for cuts

By Staff
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
When voters across the state rejected Gov. Bob Riley's $1.2 billion tax and accountability package, non-state agencies took a licking from a bare-bones budget.
That's why The Arc of Morgan County, an after-school and summer program for people with developmental disabilities, may have to turn people in need away and lower its safety criteria.
The Arc Executive Director Mark Griffin said he is waiting for the smoke to clear in Montgomery to get an accurate view of just how much money the agency will lose and how the loss will affect programs and staffing at the facility.
"We'll have to look very closely at what we will be able to continue to provide," Griffin said. "We may have to put a limit on the number of people we can serve and cut out many of the extra things, like parties and Christmas present programs. We will also undoubtedly be making staff cuts."
Griffin said state budget cuts ranging from $20,000-$40,000 are anticipated. Such cuts would almost completely eliminate the one-on-one care staff members are currently able to provide.
"Even though $20,000 doesn't sound like much, a loss like that is hard to recover from," Griffin said. "That would be a fairly good wack to our $160,000 yearly operating budget, and we're not sure how we're going to climb over it."
The Arc has three full-time employees and nearly 50 part-time and summer employees. The current staff to child ratio is 1 to 3.5, well below the state's requirement of 1 to 10.
"For the safety of the kids, we're going to try to keep as much staff as possible," Griffin said. "However, to maintain such a safe staff to child ratio, new people may actually be turned away and the program may be capped."
The Arc is also anticipating a loss in funding from the United Way this year as the organization did not meet its fundraising goals. Griffin said about 40 percent of The Arc's budget comes from the United Way.
"Insurance rates have significantly increased and staff raises have remained stagnant for two years," Griffin said. "With less funding from the state and the United Way, we're basically in a state of anxiously awaiting. This will be a financial hardship for us."
The Arc approached the Decatur City Council and the Morgan County Commission for an increase in funding, but neither entity was able to comply. Griffin said The Arc will continue to receive level funding of $5,000 from the commission and $7,160 from the council.
Without the increases, Griffin said parents may have to contribute more financially to the program.
"The Arc is very important to working families, especially single parents," Griffin said. "Parents already pay a nominal fee for the care their children receive here, but those fees may increase pretty significantly. I don't know how many families can afford that."
Griffin said an alternative would be to only reserve places the children of parents whose employment absolutely depends on the child's after-school and summer care.
"If we have to quit doing this (The Arc), someone will have to pick up the pieces," Griffin said. "It will then fall to the city and county school systems, the system that's already squealing its tires."
However, Griffin does not hold Gov. Riley responsible for the drastic funding cuts being made at The Arc and other community service organizations across the state.
"Gov. Riley did not put us in this position and he's not being vindictive because the tax package was rejected," Griffin said. "He's doing what has to be done, what he said was going to happen. Things in this state just might have to crash before they ever start to look up."