• August 22, 2014

Volunteer services facing scrutiny

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Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2004 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:53 pm, Thu Jan 23, 2014.

By Lisa Soule

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeens Volunteer Center continues to come under the critical eye of a city councilman, despite an official move to back off until next budget season.

While he waits, Councilman Dan Corbin has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with the citys annual $250,000 expenditure to organize and oversee volunteer services throughout the area.

But I think Ive been unfairly criticized by people who feel that only their ox is getting gored, Corbin said. There is a whole herd of oxen I want to gore. As financial stewards for the city, we need to look at every single program.

Corbin said he would like to see about $2.5 million cut from the citys annual budget and hopes that the next round of budget talks will begin as soon as May, with a focused look at each department.

Besides questioning the money funneled to the volunteer programs, Corbin had pushed for sunset reviews of several city departments. He also backed in-depth looks at whether some city-provided services like solid waste collection, mowing and custodial services might be better performed by outside agencies.

However, the volunteers may be near the top of the list. Corbin has been quick to point out that $250,000 is equal to a penny on the tax rate.

Killeens Volunteer Services department receives about $120,000 annually to cover three full-time employees and general office supplies. The non-profit arm of the equation, Killeen Volunteers Inc., receives a separate grant from the city of about $139,000.

Several programs come under the KVI umbrella, including the Celebrate Killeen Committee, Greater Killeen Areas Promise, Keep Killeen Beautiful, Killeen Volunteer Corps and the Youth Advisory Commission.

Corbin has been reviewing the organizations financial statements, tax returns and budget requests. He also asked for a survey of surrounding cities regarding the funding of paid volunteer positions.

An Oct. 20 memorandum prepared by Killeen Management Accountant Martie Simpson in response to the request showed no paid positions in Waco, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Temple, Belton and Georgetown.

Individual departments are in charge of obtaining volunteers as needed, Simpson said of Cove, Heights, Belton and Georgetown.

In Waco, Simpson found that Baylor University supplies most of the volunteer activities.

The city of Waco is a very stable area and has many volunteer organizations that have been in existence for many years, Simpson reported.

Killeen Volunteer Director Joyce Hodson said she would have liked to respond to Corbins request but wasnt aware of it until after the response was issued.

There are other cities with paid volunteers positions, Hodson said. Fort Hood has a large volunteer center and their employees are paid.

While the city of Waco does not have a paid staff, Hodson said it does have outreach programs through various departments.

When the city of Denton needs volunteers, they are gathered by various departments, said Denton Public Information Officer John Cabrales.

There are programs and events that would not get off the ground without volunteers, Cabrales said.

However, no city staffer is paid to specifically find them. If you wanted to get nit-picky, perhaps a portion of their salaries are spent finding them under other duties as assigned.

Most Texas designated volunteer centers which, like Killeens, are associated with the Points of Light Foundation do not receive municipal funding unless they provide specific services for a city on contract.

Carrie Moffitt, chief executive officer of Volunteer Houston, said funding for her annual budget, which runs between $700,000 and $800,000, is realized through corporations, foundations and private donors as well as its own annual fund-raiser.

The Houston center has seven full-time employees, about 28,000 connected volunteers and serves a population base of about 4 million.

Moffitt said the organization receives other revenue by special arrangement. For instance, the center contracts with a school district to recruit and manage mentors for 25 schools. It also contracts with Harris County to provide trained volunteers for disaster relief.

While other centers throughout the state operate in a similar fashion, Round Rocks volunteer organization is one of the few that are comparable to Killeens.

Round Rock Volunteer Center Director Pat Patterson said her organization has battled a funding crisis since one of that citys council members took exception to the program a few years ago.

Our funding has continually gone down, Patterson said.

While she used to receive in the area of $60,000 from the city annually, that figure has been slashed in half. Round Rock also receives funding from the United Way.

Now we are truly challenged, Patterson said, recalling her once typical annual budget, which neared $200,000. We had been extremely spoiled to be able to do broad-based work.

Patterson said the criticism that has been heaped on Killeens program is similar to what she has faced in recent years.

I think its really short-sighted, Patterson said. The community connection and civic responsibility is dwindling. Volunteerism brings in disconnected people and is truly the ultimate in Americanism.

In defending her own organization, Patterson said that she has talked until she is blue in the face.

Were a support agency a middle man, Patterson said. People dont see the HR value. Were essentially an employment agency for volunteers.

If her organization was dissolved, Patterson acknowledged that critical things likely would still get done.

Would it be organized and efficient? she said. Probably not.

Killeen might also be compared with an effort far from Texas. The New York City-funded Mayors Volunteer Center has an annual budget of $244,298. The New York Times in October reported the center has four paid staff members in an article that chronicled the citys recent push at expanding its volunteer base.

As Councilman Corbin eyes Killeens possibilities of budget cuts, he said all things have to be prioritized.

Although the programs may have value and do good things, that should not be our criteria, Corbin said. I dont question the value of many of the things done with the money. I just question if they need to be done by the city.

Contact Lisa Soule at lsoule@kdhnews.com

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