By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – Not only did Marshfield aldermen reject the idea of giving money to the city’s domestic abuse organization, but the Common Council emphasized it with a specific motion to deny funding – a type of vote which is almost never taken.
With one member absent, the council voted 7-2 during their March 27 meeting in favor of a motion to deny funding for the Personal Development Center (PDC), which was seeking assistance in covering the costs associated with the acquisition of Marshfield’s former transitional shelter.
“I want to do this so bad, but I can’t,” Alderman Tom Buttke said. “Great idea; I so much want to help the people, but, again, the list is going to be so long for the people coming to us, and they are all good organizations. I wish that I’d win the lottery, because we would have all of these things done, if I could do that, but I just can’t because there is going to be such a long line of people asking for funds from us.”
The PDC was asking the council to cover the $80,000 purchase price for the shelter property, plus $20,000 a year for operational expenses. Executive Director Renee Schulz, who first approached the council regarding the funding in early March, argued that PDC is not just another non-profit organization seeking funding. She said providing emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse is a public safety issue the city should be financially involved in.
“We’ve been doing this now for 40 long years and have not come to the city for funding through all of these years, and the number of individuals whose lives we have saved because of the work that is being done, I mean, that is beyond count,” said Schulz.
PDC recently announced it was acquiring the former transitional homeless shelter once operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Outreach Center. That non-profit organization was denied city funding a few years ago, but another non-profit – the Marshfield Area Pet Shelter – has been granted city assistance in recent years. In the wake of helping that organization, Alderman Ed Wagner was under the assumption the Council would do the same in this situation.
“I cannot stand up to the argument that I gave $290,000 to pets and didn’t give money to battered women,” he said.
Wagner joined Alderman Chris Jockheck in voting against the funding denial.
“In my heart, I want to do this. In my mind, it says no,” said Jockheck, “because this building was built with volunteer help for a specific purpose that didn’t work out; and if this doesn’t go through, one – PDC is homeless, which would be a striking negative in this community – and it would be a negative on all of the people that helped build this.”
At one point in the meeting, Mayor Chris Meyer removed himself as chairperson, so he could take part in the debate.
While the Mayor agreed that human services is not something the city is statutorily responsible for, while stray animals are, he argued that finding a way to reuse a shelter built with community resources, for something as important as domestic abuse, seems like the solution to a problem that the council said it was looking for when the facility shut down in December.
“When this transitional shelter closed, we had people here talking to us, asking what we were going to do about that,” Mayor Meyer recalled. “One of the things this body said was, ‘We should do something about that.’”
We were involved, and I am not going to take any credit from PDC or the other people who were at the table, because they had the ball rolling already by the time we were involved at the city level. But, we wanted to make sure that people were talking, and the right people were being put together to see if we could find a resolution. That resolution is sitting in front of you…”
The Mayor was visibly upset when the council denied the funding, stating “Before we move on, I just have to make one comment and that is that in 10 years I’ve never been this disappointed in a common council completely failing to stand up to the requirements that they have in front of them. You are a governing body for a community that put money forward to build this facility and tonight you took the chicken way out, and I am disappointed.”
Schulz said funding requests with Wood and Marathon County officials have not produced results over the years. She has not approached Clark County for funding, even though it’s within PDC’s service territory.
The organization is closing on the shelter property March 29 and with PDC’s current location already leased to its next tenant, Schulz said they have to move into the homeless shelter property by May 1.
Schulz said a community funding campaign has already begun, to assist the agency with getting the new location ready with modifications for increased security. She said a federal grant of $175,000 will cover those renovations, but she said her organization will need another $150,000 a year in operational expenses, mainly for around-the-clock staff members.