Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Funding for Downtown Rockville group nearly halved

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 1:06 PM EDT

VERNON — Republicans cut $15,000 from the town’s annual contribution to the Rockville Downtown Association during the Town Council’s budget deliberations Tuesday, eliminating nearly half the nonprofit’s funding.

Moreover, representatives from the association got an earful from council members, who described a communication breakdown between the town and the group marked by the association’s unwillingness to share information about its finances and refusal to allow council members to attend the association’s monthly board of directors meetings.

Republican Councilman Bill Campbell described as “offensive” the lack of information from the nonprofit, which he said derives much of its operating budget from town funds.

He continued, “There’s evidence of lack of communication all around.”

Meanwhile, representatives from the nonprofit, which tasks itself with reviving downtown Rockville through economic development, made the case for restoring the town’s annual contribution, and distanced themselves from the group’s former chief executive officer, Randy Anagnostis, who resigned this year.

“The former director was not as communicative as he should have been,” association President Gene Skladnowski said today regarding Tuesday’s vote and its impact on the nonprofit’s search for a new executive director.

“We will be looking for someone with greater communication skills,” Skladnowski said, adding that the association already has asked Mayor Jason L. McCoy to appoint a council member to serve on the search committee for a new director.

Nevertheless, Skladnowski said he was “disappointed” by the funding reduction.

The town perennially gives the association between $30,000 and $40,000. It was scheduled to receive $35,000 in the coming fiscal year.

Skladnowski denied that the board of directors or downtown officials have barred council members from attending meetings and that anyone on the council wishing to “see the books,” namely the group’s finances, could do so “by appointment.”

Council Democrats, who along with town staff, argued to keep funding levels intact instead agreed to hold the organization harmless, pending a report from the group on its progress and an indication of where the town money will be spent.

Democratic Councilman Michael Winkler said it’s important to invest in the Rockville Downtown Association, “or we have to cut them lose. I don’t think cutting their budget makes any sense at all.”

The association was beset by declining public support even before the recession hit last year, representatives said.

Revenues for the nonprofit have decreased nearly 45 percent during the three-year period from 2004 to 2007, according to the most recent available federal tax data.

The nonprofit pulled in $119,751 during the fiscal year ending July 2005 — mostly from public donations — but those figures dropped to $66,204 by July 2007.

The association has run a budget deficit of $14,337 and $15,908 in the fiscal years ending in 2006 and 2007 respectively, as its operating costs, specifically Anagnostis’ compensation, exceeded public support.

Former Republican Councilman Robert Kleinhans, who now sits on the association’s board of directors, asked the council to maintain its present level of funding, as development has ground to a halt and talks with the group’s primary developer, Massachusetts-based Hall Keen LLC, have slowed.

He said he doubts the organization’s ability to raise enough funds to cover the reduction.

“We’re going to have a hard enough time raising funds to where we were,” he told the council.

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