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Paris seeks to redirect funds to combat poverty
PARIS — In the spirit of what he is calling "collective sacrifice," Selectman Ted Kurtz is hoping to redirect town funds from current allocations to help the area's most poverty-stricken residents.
As part of an ongoing community discussion about how to help those who have been hard-hit by the economic climate, Kurtz said that the town should be able to squeeze money from the budget to help the effort.
"The one thing we do have access to is money," said Kurtz, "and if there's some way we can figure out legally to divert that money to people in our town that need that, I'd like to explore [that]."
Currently, towns are legally required to provide certain types of General Assistance (GA) to citizens who can document their financial need. The state reimburses each town for a percentage of money spent on the GA program.
In response to a request from Kurtz, Town Manager Phil Tarr said that he would generate a list of potential re-allocations that could be made.
Selectmen Ray Glover and Lloyd Herrick each noted that the town's contributions to GA are defined by the state, and asked Kurtz to clarify that he did, indeed, want to go above and beyond the state's legal minimum of aid to the poor.
"Are you proposing identifying other dollars in the yearly budget that the town has, to do something above and beyond the general obligation of town assistance?" asked Herrick.
"Yes," said Kurtz. "Yes. I don't know what that is."
Kurtz said that he had received a letter from an 85-year-old resident who had applauded comments made by members of the board and Town Manager Phil Tarr expressing a desire to address the problem.
"She said she was particularly impressed by our discussion about collective sacrifice," reported Kurtz. "And that's what I'm really getting at here is, as a community, let's really shed a little blood, a little tears, a little sweat for these people and see if we can't just do something."
The Reverend Anne Stanley of Norway's Christ Episcopal Church said that representatives from churches, social service agencies, Norway, Paris, and Stephens Memorial Hospital are in the process of planning a coordinated response to the issue of poverty and resource allocation.
The group hopes to hold a larger meeting in January to tackle the issue in a thoughtful way.
"The impetus for all of this wasn't simply ... a huge increase in the number of people coming to the churches, although there has been an increase, but equally important ... is the need for communication and coordination among all these different people," said Stanley.
The issue came to the fore when Stanley reported a jump in the numbers of people seeking aid from local churches at the same time Town Manager Tarr said that the town's GA fund might not be adequate to meet a spike in demand.
Stanley said that communication and resource-pooling are important strategies under consideration.
"I'm not really sure what the outcome will be, but it's a start," said Stanley.
Glover said that he saw a potential benefit to the town.
"We can find some way to direct people in need, somebody that can provide the services that they're looking for," said Glover. "Right now, I think people are just running around, hoping they can find help wherever they think to ask."
Herrick said that he thought there might be legal restrictions that would threaten the town's ability to help the poor, but that he supported the effort.
"I just hope, legally, we can do something like that above and beyond what we're currently mandated to do," said Herrick.