Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just a Mile Outta Hell

Bob Dylan, perhaps channeling Ben Franklin, once suggested 'money doesn't talk, it swears.' The two most important questions we ask one another every day especially while we wait for the recession that we're told has ended to finally disappear are "what does it cost?" and "what is it worth?"

The dollars for the former question, be they federal, state or local, are usually pretty easy to figure out-but the latter can sometimes be harder to define. And, perhaps it's our (too) human nature, we tend to pay more attention to the dollars when they're large sums. Programs costing seven, eight and more figures cause us to notice a lot more and a lot faster. So if millions and billions shout and scream, thousands and tens of thousands seem to do little more than sigh.

In the last four years, the City of Norwich has adopted operating budgets that have exceeded, in total, over four hundred million dollars-a very impressive sum while at the same time volunteers have helped parcel out Community Development Block Grants totaling almost three million dollars to dozens of deserving neighborhood programs and outreaches.

Except for the size of the sums involved, that's pretty much the case from town to town across the state and throughout the country. However, in Norwich, as a result of foresight and cooperation between the City of Norwich and Mohegan Tribal leadership, we also have an additional resource, the Sachem Fund, which, with disbursements last week of nearly $183,000 have now provided nearly a million dollars in the last four years for fifty-five different projects, to include, in this most recent round, an internship program at the Otis Library, support to build two houses for Habitat for Humanity and assistance for the Norwich Historical Society to catalog historical assets throughout the city.

The Sachem Fund has had some hard times in recent years-but then again, who hasn't? Contributions from both the City and the Mohegan Tribe were suspended because funding just couldn't be made available and the scale and scope of assistance was offered had to be downsized as well. But a fund balance was still available and the volunteers on the Sachem Fund Board decided in light of last fall's vote by Norwich residents to invest in their own downtown to use a not inconsequential amount of the available funds as a stimulus for the economic, cultural and recreational growth and momentum Norwich needs to develop and maintain.

Not everyone got every dollar they needed but many deserving projects received help and with next year's city budget projecting a $50,000 payment to the fund, with a match from the Mohegan Tribe, all added to the thirty thousand or so dollars still remaining, there's still a lot of good yet to come from the Sachem Fund.

The members of the board will be meeting in the coming months to better address the types of concerns many had as the selection process went forward this spring, most especially in terms of better defining how a request for assistance measurably improves the city. For those who attended the meetings in May and June, it wasn't just a matter of picking one project over another. The board wrangled and struggled with defining what they wanted as a return on their investment for Norwich and in developing a measurement of the positive impact on our community. If those sound like the reasons why the Sachem Fund was created, you're right and the board members want to make sure the Sachem Fund remains true to its vision and purpose.

It might have been tempting-it most certainly would have been easier for the Sachem Fund Board to distribute the slightly more than $220,000 they had, pronounced themselves pleased with their work and go home. Except, funnily enough, Norwich is their home, too. And all the members agreed they can, and will, do better most especially because there better days ahead.
-bill kenny

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