By Joel Mongeon
The selectmen have voted in favor of amending the guidelines to Sterling’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, a decision that will rescind their control over the program’s funds.
In September the selectmen appointed Judge Patrick Fox as the community liaison to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, a charity formerly run by the town that gives financial assistance to families in need. One of Fox’s immediate goals in this role was to restructure the program so that it could function independently of the town government. Because Neighbor-to-Neighbor is a private fund, not public, Fox thought it best to seek approval from the select board for the program to be cut from their control and administered privately.
“It would probably be helpful that this fund be disentangled…from the town,” said Fox. “This is not a town government function. The funds are not town funds.”
To make this possible, Fox proposed that the fund’s disbursements be decided solely by the committee and administered by WHEAT Community Connections in Clinton. By teaming with a non-profit, the fund will increase its potential for bigger donations because of tax deductibility.
Fox’s restructuring of the program required a new memorandum of understanding, which he presented to the board of selectmen at a meeting in late October. Having outlined the new guidelines, he proposed that the fund be cut from the town government’s control, though the selectmen will still appoint new members to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor committee on an annual basis, and the committee will continue to report their activity to the selectmen.
Limits for applicants will remain the same. Any recipient of funds from the Neighbor-to Neighbor program must be a resident of Sterling for at least one year. A household in need, showing proof of hardship, can apply for up to $1,200 at one time for essential living expenses, with a lifetime limit of $2,400.
Donations to the fund will still in part flow through the Sterling municipality. In addition to the Roundup Program sponsored by the Sterling Municipal Light Department, the fund will maintain the office of the executive assistant in Sterling as the main point of contact.
“I think we do need a point of contact,” said Fox. “It would be better to have that point of contact in our community rather than at WHEAT.”
At the inception of this new arrangement, WHEAT will provide the service without charge. However, the new guidelines stipulate that WHEAT can revisit the terms and request some funding if their end of the administration becomes too taxing.
“What I’m suggesting,” said Fox, “is that we do as much…in the community as possible to limit their burden so that they’d be less likely to want to impose some sort of administrative fee.”
Under the new terms, WHEAT will manage the account, issue checks, report directly to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Committee, and send acknowledgements to donors for their tax records. The new terms also stipulate that any moneys allocated be transferred from the WHEAT fund to a vendor and not to the applicant directly.
The selectmen had in essence already approved the new memorandum of understand prior to their Nov. 2 meeting but were waiting to get the blessing of Kevin and Marilyn Beaupre, who founded the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund in 2011. Having been presented the new guidelines, the Beaupres gave their blessing and the selectmen voted to accept the new conditions.
“I don’t think it can be stated enough how much credit Mr. and Mrs. Beaupre deserve for starting this fund and being so generous in their donation,” said Fox. “It’s a great concept. I think it would be great if every community could do it.”