Portland panel privately revises social service allocations
PORTLAND — The committee in charge of recommending federal funding for social service agencies will offer the City Council three options on March 22 – two weeks after the council criticized the original recommendations and the method by which they were reached.
Exactly how the three options were developed remains unknown, however, because the committee reached its conclusions privately last week, without any public notice and without recording minutes.
The city's Housing and Neighborhood Services Division, which oversees CDBG funding is currently short-staffed. Its Housing and Community Development program manager, in charge of staffing the CDBG committee, is on maternity leave and the division director abruptly resigned Feb. 22.
The council in 2008 approved a new process for distributing the federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The process had been under review since 2006, in response to charges of favoritism and political motivation in allocations.
This was the first year the CDBG Annual Allocations Committee implemented the 2008 directive, with allocations made based on a point system. The committee reviewed each application for funding and allotted points based on need in the community, neighborhood impact and sustainability.
Other new rules included not granting funding of less than $20,000 per applicant and providing the entire amount requested. The city has about $786,000 to allocate.
Following the new method, 14 of 32 applications were recommended for funding for 2010-11 year. But when the allocations committee presented its recommendations to the council March 8, councilors ordered the committee to go back and explore offering a percentage of requested funds in order to fund more programs.
In response, the CDBG committee will present the council with two alternative funding recommendations at a public hearing March 22. It will also resubmit the original recommendations. No changes were made to the $1.3 million available for development activities, such as sidewalk rebuilding and improvements to nonprofit infrastructure.
The first alternative would fund applicants that scored more than 75 points and were funded last year, at the same amount as last year. It would fund new applicants with more than 75 points at 75 percent.
The other alternative would fund last year's allocation winners with 80 points or more at 5 percent more than they got in 2009, while also funding new applicants with more than 80 points at 75 percent of their requests. That scenario would leave the City Council with about $46,000 to hand out at its discretion – which could raise questions about the fairness of the process.
The City Council has the final decision on all allocations.
The new scenarios would fund eight to 10 additional programs, including Amistad, Home Health Visiting Nurses, Hour Exchange and Peaks Island Children's Workshop. LearningWorks (formerly Portland West) would also receive funding.
The CDBG allocations committee met March 11 to discuss the council's order and to explore funding scenarios. But public notice of that meeting was not made, no minutes were taken and no documentation was made available after the fact.
Penny Littell, the city's director of planning and urban development, attended the meeting but afterwards said she didn't have documents from the meeting. City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said that because the meeting did not have a quorum, she didn't believe the public had to be notified.
A follow-up meeting was held Tuesday at noon. That meeting was not posted on the City Hall calendar either, although Clegg did notify a reporter via e-mail at 9:35 Tuesday morning. A revised spreadsheet showing the three alternative scenarios was distributed at the meeting, which lasted no more than a half hour.
The City Council will hold a public hearing and is scheduled to vote on 2010-11 CDBG allocations March 22 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or email@example.com