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Gwinnett makes cuts to nonprofits

LAWRENCEVILLE - Alice Cunningham's stomach clenched and her eyes filled with tears when she heard the news.

Hi-Hope Center, the nonprofit that provides services to give developmentally disabled adults a chance to become independent, could suffer another huge blow in the economy that has Cunningham struggling to make ends meet.

In the wake of a public outcry over a proposed millage rate increase, commissioners Tuesday will consider about $20 million in cuts, including dropping an annual grant to the center and four other nonprofits.

"It is a community's responsibility to care for our citizens," Cunningham said, adding that government is only a piece of the equation and individuals, churches and organizations should also help. "This segment of population is overlooked. I really feel they are disavowing a segment of our county's citizens and not meeting the needs of these people."

While Hi-Hope Center, which has received a small county subsidy since the 1970s, and other agencies and organizations will take a 10 percent cut in 2009, if commissioners pass proposed budget cuts Tuesday, five of those groups face being dropped from the grant list in 2010.

In addition to the Association of Retarded Citizens, which supports the center, those organizations are the Gwinnett Children's Shelter, Barrier Free Gwinnett, which supports people with disabilities, the Council for Seniors and the Latin American Association. That will total about $213,064 in 2010.

Reductions are also proposed to subsidies to the Board of Health, Department of Family and Children Services, Health and Human Services Coalition and Gwinnett Rockdale Newton Community Services Board.

According to Pat Baker, division director of health and human services, grants to the Partnership for Domestic Violence and Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center will not be cut, as those are funded through court fees.

Nancy Friauf, the shelter's director, said the county has given a subsidy to the center for all 16 years she has worked there. The grant, which was reduced to about $66,000 this year, is especially important at a time when donations have dwindled.

Having already cut health insurance coverage, frozen salaries and reduced staff, Friauf said her group is limited in making more cuts because she has to provide enough staffing to supervise the children in her care.

"We understand that times are really hard for folks," she said. "While it's difficult, we also understand (county officials') need to do the best they can with the funds they have available."

But she added that she believes the county still values the services the agency provides, including providing shelter to 200 youth a year and other counseling and programs.

Cunningham said the loss of the subsidy could also hurt in applications for other grants, which often ask about support from the community and the local government.

Attempts to reach the other three agencies were not successful.