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Williamstown Youth Center Presents Funding Request to Town
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:44AM / Monday, March 29, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Numbers were down at the Williamstown Youth Center in 2020.
 
But numbers don't begin to tell the story, Executive Director Mike Williams said on Wednesday.
 
"I've been with the youth center for 15 years now," he said in a presentation to the town's Finance Committee. "I'm used to people approaching me with their comments, their questions. … This year, it has been remarkable hearing from people about how important we are to their families. That has been tremendously rewarding.
 
"Because we're serving a smaller number of kids this year, it sometimes feels like we're not having the impact we usually have, but then I hear from families who have participated in our program, and it's clear we've never been more needed. We hear that, ‘Without you, one of us would have had to quit our job,' or, ‘We would have had to pay X amount for child care or nannies.' That's one of the things I've noticed over the past year or so."
 
Williams and WYC operations manager Julia Melnick met with the Fin Comm to make the center's case for continued town support in the fiscal 2022 town budget. The center is seeking $77,000, the same amount annual town meeting has supported overwhelmingly the last three years. That represents 15 percent of the center's $482,987 operating budget from 2019-20, before the pandemic hit.
 
The FY21 operating spending plan is down to $398,000 because a lot of the traditional youth center programs, like summer camps and youth sports, were suspended last March. But that did not mean the WYC closed its doors.
 
"In the past year, we pivoted from our normal operation to spending almost all our time and energy supporting remote learning at [Williamstown Elementary School]," Williams said. "As restrictions have come and gone, we have begun to reintroduce some of our recreational programs to our offerings. But right now we're open every day the school is open and supporting those kids during remote learning time.
 
"We've always known we're very close partners of the community as a whole and, more specifically, WES. But that has never been more evident than it has in this short period."
 
Melnick said the youth center is planning to return to its regular level of services over the next year as, hopefully, the pandemic subsides and life returns to "normal."
 
But there are no guarantees.
 
"I can tell you the biggest uncertainty going forward is looking at revenue for next year," Williams said. "For a few years, we were bringing in close to $300,000 in revenue. Our numbers have to be reduced. … The summer program generates so much revenue for us that that carries us through a great part of the year. We can get 60 kids a day in camp sometimes; we average 40 to 45 kids. I'm fairly certain that number will have to be reduced this summer.
 
"I'm assuming we're going to keep progressing in the right direction [with reopening the Massachusetts economy], but who knows. What happens if our revenue is not $300,000 again this year? And what if the government support dries up? It's our responsibility to assume that both of those things are going to be true next year and try to budget accordingly."
 
The youth center did receive more than $49,000 in CARES Act funding in 2021.
 
Some of it went toward acquiring personal protective equipment and upgrading the center's internet connectivity to support all those remote learners, Williams said. Some went toward supporting the center's staff of seven full-time equivalent employees.
 
"Part of the CARES Act fund went to reducing our rates further than usual because … there are simply people who cannot afford not to be coming to the youth center," Williams said. "It's difficult for a lot of families to apply for financial aid. It's not something anybody wants to do. We've always felt strongly that even with the financial aid we offer, we need to keep our regular rates at a low level so we're affordable to any family who needs it."
 
The youth center is one of four local nonprofits seeking taxpayer support in FY22. The requests are accounted for in Town Manager Jason Hoch's spending plan for next year, but each requires a separate warrant article at town meeting. The Williamstown Community Preschool, Sand Springs Recreation Center and Williamstown Chamber of Commerce each made presentations to the Fin Comm at its March 17 meeting.
 
Like the other non-profits, the WYC was asked about its other fund-raising efforts by the Finance Committee, whose members have expressed a desire to make sure that the town is not the only source of outside funds.
 
"We've been unable to hold Springfest, our major fund-raiser, for two years in a row," Melnick said.
 
"I will say that at the board level, we are very eager to start a fund-raising drive," Williams added. "We have a fund-raising letter prepared to go out to the whole community. … We know that youth center fund-raising, either through Snowfest or Springfest, is something people anticipate every year. Instead, we are making a direct appeal to the community."
 
Wednesday's meeting included the Finance Committee's annual review of the spending plan for the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District, which Williamstown shares with eight other municipalities.
 
Williamstown students make up 3.67 percent of McCann Tech's total enrollment in the current academic year. Based largely on enrollment numbers, the assessment to Williamstown in FY22 is $290,551 toward a $10.3 million budget. The Williamstown share is up from $274,522 in FY21, a rise of $16,029, or 5.8 percent.
 
The big drivers are a slight increase in the number of residents enrolled at McCann plus a district wide increase in transportation costs, Superintendent James Brosnan told the Finance Committee. Overall, net school spending in the district is planned to rise 2.5 percent in FY22.
 
One of the fiscal priorities for McCann Tech in FY22 is additional staffing, Brosnan said.
 
"Enrollment is growing and growing," he said. "With that, the rest of the staffing will increase. That's the biggest change we anticipate."
 
Brosnan said where the school usually admits about 140 freshman, next year's freshman class may be 155.
 
"We're getting more and more and more applications, so we'll try to do what we can do," he said.
 
Also on Wednesday, the Finance Committee reviewed the budget for the Milne Public Library, the Hoosic Water Quality District and the town's enterprise funds, which include the water department, sewer department and transfer station.
 
The largest cost center to be reviewed by the Fin Comm this spring is the Mount Greylock Regional School District; that School Committee was expected to approve its FY22 budget on Thursday night. The Mount Greylock spending plan and the town's FY22 capital plan and some smaller items remain on the Finance Committee's to-do list before the June annual town meeting.
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