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Portland council OKs social service funds, calls for examination of process

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Portland council OKs social service funds, calls for examination of process

PORTLAND — Despite last-minute attempts by several city councilors to adjust funding for some social service agencies, the City Council on Monday made only one change to the recommendations from the city manager and a review committee.

The city has about $785,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to give to social service programs this year, along with $1.3 million for development activities such as infrastructure improvements and economic development.

Although the council in 2006 created a task force to recommend ways to make the allocation process more equitable and the application process more clear, some councilors seemed inclined to revert to the prior arbitrary practice of funding programs based on their own perceptions and favorites.

"This is the most bizarre (process) I've seen in the entire time I've been doing this," Councilor said Cheryl Leeman, who has served on the council for more than two dozen years. She said arbitrarily allocating funds "takes the fairness out of the process."

The new process for awarding funding is based on a scoring system that takes into account community impact, low-income neighborhoods served and past performance.

After taking public comment and briefly discussing recommendations for funding from City Manager Joe Gray and the CDBG Allocations Committee, the council voted 5-4 in favor of Gray's recommendations – which were the same as the committee's with the exception of one item. That vote happened at about 8:30 p.m.

After the vote, Councilor David Marshall, who voted for the allocations, attempted to amend the recommendations in order to fund LearningWorks (formerly Portland West) by taking $50,000 from community policing allocations.

LearningWorks applied for money for its Youth Building Alternatives program. The agency is based in Marshall's district and did not score high enough for funding.

The council decided to reconsider its original vote. For the next hour and a half, councilors threw out various changes they wanted to make to the funding recommendations, despite how programs were ranked.

"This is not about pet projects," Councilor Dory Waxman said. "It's about spreading out the money as far as we can."

Waxman recommended taking $10,000 from Preble Street's food program and giving it to Day One, an adolescent recovery program.  She also made a motion to take $10,000 from Cultivating Community and $10,000 from The Frannie Peabody Center and giving it to Amistad.

Marshall made an additional motion to take $10,000 from the city's homeless health care fund, giving it instead to the Telling Room, an after-school literacy program.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue moved to take $5,000 from the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery and give it to the Peaks Island Children's Workshop – despite Peaks Island no longer being in a qualifying census tract for CDBG funds.

None of the amendments succeeded except Marshall's amendment to transfer $50,000 in community policing funds to LearningWorks. That motion passed 5-4 with Councilors Jill Duson, John Anton, Donoghue and Leeman opposed.

The council ultimately approved Gray's recommendations, with the Marshall amendment, unanimously.

Mayor Nick Mavodones said he wanted the council to revisit the scoring and funding method in the coming months and make changes.

The CDBG Allocations Committee spent several months reviewing and scoring applications for funding, based on recommendations approved by the City Council over the past three years. Their recommendations for social service programs funded 14 of 31 applicants.

When those recommendations were presented to the council March 8, though, the council ordered the committee to go back and figure out how to fund more applicants. The committee's recommendations included fully funding the winning programs, instead of partially funding many of them, as in the past.

The committee on Monday presented the council with two scenarios that involved funding all programs from last year, along with new programs from this year that scored 80 points or more. None of the programs would have received full funding.

"We still stand behind our original recommendation of 100 percent funding," committee Chairwoman Annette Rogers said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net