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The Charles County commissioners assured county nonprofits at their monthly public forum Tuesday that they would not be cutting nearly $800,000 in grants that county groups deemed necessary to keeping their doors open to needy residents.

In an attempt to close a $10.2 million funding gap in the fiscal 2015 budget, county staff had proposed, among other recommendation, wiping out $797,600 in grants earmarked for nonprofits.

The proposal sparked outrage among nonprofit directors, who claimed their existence depended on the county’s funding.

“We’d like you to know before we begin that we will not be doing that,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said at the top of the forum, drawing applause and a collective exhale of relief from more than a dozen nonprofit volunteers in attendance.

Aware the majority of those signed up to speak were representing nonprofits and hoping to speed matters along, Kelly and Commissioners Ken Robinson (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) agreed in the minutes leading up to the forum to announce that the funding would not be cut.

“We certainly don’t want to inhibit anyone that would like to speak,” Kelly said. “However, if you did feel you had something you’d prefer to do this evening, you’re certainly free to leave, but you have our assurance that we will not be cutting that funding from the budget.”

The announcement failed to shorten the list of speakers, though it certainly altered the tone of their comments, as several nonprofit directors and members thanked the board for its decision before endorsing their respective organizations’ contributions to the county.

“We are producing citizens who work, vote and pay taxes in Charles County,” said Valerie Kettner, president of the Charles County Literacy Council, which offers free and confidential tutoring to adults in reading, math, English and citizenship. “We do this on an ever-decreasing amount of income for an ever-increasing number of people.”

The proposal “eliminating all funding for all nonprofits who requested grants from the commissioners” represented “limited monetary savings to the county and the substantial loss of human services provided by nonprofits,” Kettner said.

“Every dollar the county invests in adult literacy yields $7.14 in return in increased productivity, improved personal health care by being able to read and understand prescriptions and doctor’s instructions, and in reduced unemployment benefits, lost taxes and lower crime,” she said. “We are eliminating poverty one word at a time.”

“We work together. We stretch the dollars that we get. We do everything we can to make sure that those that are less fortunate and those that are in need in our community get what they need,” said Sandy O. Washington, executive director of the La Plata-based LifeStyles of Maryland, which provides services to the county’s homeless people. “We are at ground zero. We hear what the needs are, and we try to make sure we meet those needs.”

“The nonprofits are the most vital organizations in the county, and matter of fact, throughout the state,” said Louis Knight, president of the Charles County Cooperative Ministry on Aging, which oversees the county’s Meals on Wheels and Telephone Reassurance Program. “We supply the services which no other organization or business can provide to any community. We are the community.”

jnewman@somdnews.com