Official defends nonprofits Thursday, June 16, 2005
Lisa Kocian 508-820-4231 Boston Globe West
Homeless shelters, programs for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and other social service programs have drawn an increasing amount of criticism in Framingham in recent months, but now one of the agencies most frequently targeted is fighting back.

"We think there's a lot of misinformation being spread, a lot of vitriol," said Jim Cuddy, executive director of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, a large nonprofit group that runs homeless shelters, residential programs for people with substance abuse problems, mental health programs, and Head Start programs for children. SMOC serves about 20,000 people in the area.

Critics say Framingham is providing a disproportionately high number of social services and the agencies benefit from not having to pay taxes on some of their properties in town, essentially meaning that Framingham taxpayers are helping to support services received by residents of other towns.

SMOC owns 82 properties in town and pays property taxes on 48 of them.  Only properties that serve an educational purpose are tax-exempt.

Town Meeting member Laurie Lee said she isn't against providing social services, but if Framingham is doing more than its fair share, the town should be compensated.

"Nobody is going after poor people or the needy," said Lee.  "But we feel there's a responsibility on these very high cash flow nonprofits to have some responsibility to support the communities they've chosen to come to."

SMOC has drawn flak most recently for its planned purchase of a former nursing home on Winter Street, which the agency hopes to use as a residential program for recovering substance abuse addicts and their families.  Residents who live in the area have lashed out at SMOC, saying the program has no place in their neighborhood.

SMOC officials have offered to meet with neighbors, but they declined.  Winter Street area residents have said they will only meet with SMOC in front of the Board of Selectmen.

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