Seventeen local agencies will soon be checking their mailboxes to learn how much funding they'll receive from United Way of Cullman County this year.

Kasey Kearce, United Way's executive director, said staffers were stuffing envelopes Thursday to inform the local charitable groups, like Cullman Caring For Kids and Victim Services, that rely on United Way allocations what to expect for the coming year.

The current cycle of allocations will divide money raised more than a year ago, about $513,000. The most recent fundraising campaign brought in about $556,000 in donations and pledges, but that won't be distributed until next year.

Kearce and members of United Way's board of directors sat down with leaders from each agency earlier this month to consider their requests for funding. Not everyone can be satisfied — together, the 17 agencies asked for $625,000.

"The good thing about the hearing is that it gives the board a chance to visit with each agency and ensure the money United Way raises is being well-spent," she said.

That includes asking the agencies about their expectations for the coming year and reviewing their financial health, including reports from independent auditors. The required audits are "closely scrutinized," she said, to make sure agencies are budgeting wisely.

"The bottom line is, United Way wants its agencies to be accountable," Kearce said.

United Way officials are looking for answers to several questions, she said. How great is the need for an agency's services in Cullman County? How well are they meeting that need now? If an agency wants an increased allocation, what new programs and services will the extra money fund? How have their expenses changed in the last year?

United Way provides the bulk of many agencies' budgets for the year. In addition to the annual allocations, its board of directors routinely approves small supplementary grants throughout the year.

While Kearce declined to say how much each agency will receive until they have been notified, she said many groups were requesting more this year because of rising gas prices and their impact on the economy.

"When you have higher gas prices, everything seems to go along with that," she said.

Those same factors also mean more county residents need help, particularly from agencies that deal directly with poverty, like Daystar House, a temporary shelter for the homeless, or the food bank run by Cullman Caring for Kids.

Competing needs have to be carefully considered, Kearce said, but agencies have learned to make the most of what they get.

"They definitely know how to stretch a dollar," she said. "They're so well-trained at spending money wisely, a little bit can make a great impact."

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