Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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May 3, 2012

Candidate: ADEC should not get county money

— Opponents in the upcoming race for Elkhart County Commissioner, District 2, are butting heads this week over a recent statement by candidate Darryl Riegsecker, R-Goshen, indicating he will vote to eliminate county funding to the local not-for-profit agency ADEC should his candidacy prove successful.

ADEC, based out of Bristol, is an organization dedicated to the support, care and enrichment of individuals with developmental and physical disabilities.

According to Riegsecker, who made the statement during a campaign forum at the Goshen Chamber of Commerce Saturday, the call to eliminate county funding to ADEC stems from his belief that using county funds to support local not-for-profits is inappropriate at a time when the county is struggling just to come up with enough revenue to complete its basic road and infrastructure projects.

“I’m not opposed to ADEC by any means,” Riegsecker said. “In fact, I used to ride in their Ride-A-Bike fundraiser all the time. I support their mission, but right now in the county we’re having problems getting enough funding just to repair our roads, let alone fund all these other things. That’s why I’m thinking we need to find other ways of funding for ADEC.”

Following his statement Saturday, Riegsecker received a concerned phone call from ADEC President and CEO Paula Shively. During the call, Shively asked Riegsecker how he could justify saying he supports the organization’s mission while at the same time calling to cut their funding.

His response? The two are not mutually exclusive.

“I’m on the corporate board of the Boys and Girls Club, and the county doesn’t give them any money,” Riegsecker said. “Does that mean I don’t support their mission? Of course not. So just because I’m against the county funding something, that doesn’t mean I don’t support their mission. The fact is we just don’t have enough money right now, so maybe we need to look at other funding options for organizations like ADEC.”

Riegsecker’s opponent in the county commissioner race, Republican incumbent Mike Yoder, isn’t quite so sure, however.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” Yoder said of Riegsecker’s plan. “The state constitution actually gives local governments the ability as an option to fund agencies in the community that are in need. It’s a local choice, guided by the values of the community. I strongly support maintaining the funding at ADEC because I feel government can be efficient without sacrificing our values. It’s an important organization to support, and an appropriate organization to fund.”

Not willing to wait until the votes are tallied on election day to see how things shake out, Shively on Wednesday issued a detailed statement to the organization’s friends and supporters urging them to advocate for the continued use of county tax dollars for ADEC programs.

“We receive $450,500 annually from the county,” said Shively, who noted that the county has been providing funding support to ADEC for at least the past four decades. “It was in the 70s when the federal government first started funding the local community mental health centers, and they needed legislation in the state of Indiana to support those. That’s when the state first gave the go-ahead for local governments to provide tax dollars in support of organizations such as ADEC.”

According to Shively, ADEC’s budget comes down to around $14 million a year, though approximately $13 million of that is already tied specifically to funding services through Medicaid and cannot be used for any other projects.

Should Riegsecker be successful in his bid for county commissioner and make good on his promise to cut funding to the not-for-profit, Shively warned that the impact could be felt immediately as it would most likely require cutting two of the organization’s largest non-Medicaid funded programs: Guardianship and Transportation.

“The first program to go would be the Guardianship program, which is where we hire people to be the voice of those who are helpless and can’t make their own decisions,” Shively said. “There are 55 of those people that we provide guardians for right now, and that’s expected to increase over the next year.”

As for transportation, Shively said ADEC currently has a fleet of more than 50 vehicles used for transportation of ADEC clients, a number that would have to be drastically reduced should the county’s funding support dry up.

“Our vans are all over the county providing transportation for people with intellectual disabilities, and there isn’t anyone else who does that,” Shively said. “If our clients aren’t able to leave the house and come to us for the day, I don’t know what their families will do.”

Of course, all of this depends on ADEC’s future ability to raise adequate funding in the event of a county government pull-out, though Shively said she doesn’t hold out much hope that the organization will be able to continually raise the additional $450,000 a year that will be needed in order to keep these programs running.

“(Riegsecker) believes we can fundraise an additional $450,000 each and every year to replace the funds he wants to cut, but I just don’t see how this community could possibly help us raise that much money every year without significantly affecting other local not-for-profits,” Shively said. “If he feels he has the kind of expertise and knowledge we need to pull something like that off, then of course we’d love to sit down with him and discuss how to make that happen. But from my end, it seems really hard to imagine.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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