Despite objections, Portland council OKs social service allocations

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PORTLAND — The City Council Monday approved allocating nearly $4 million in anticipated federal funds to more than a dozen community development, job creation and social services programs – but not before councilors expressed concerns about the allocation process.

In a 6-1 vote, the council adopted the recommendations of City Manager Mark Rees for distributing funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which are being requested for the 2014 fiscal year. Most of the money would come from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program.

The meeting included a second public hearing on the plan, part of an annual process for distributing the HUD funds. The first hearing was held March 27.

The lone dissenting vote in Monday’s meeting was by Councilor Ed Suslovic, who said he was concerned about Rees’ “abandonment” of goals set by the the city’s CDBG Annual Allocation Committee.

“I am troubled by the departure from the allocation committee’s recommendations,” Suslovic said. “… This council has set priorities, which (the committee) upheld.”

The city manager is required to propose a plan for distributing the HUD funds, based on – but not bound by – the committee’s evaluation of funding applications. Rees previously explained his rationale for deviating from the committee recommendations.

“I made some very difficult decisions regarding social services,” he wrote in a memo. “With the growing needs of our homeless population, I feel it is imperative that we continue to fund our safety net programs, specifically food.”

Rees shaved 15.8 percent off other CDBG-funded applications to partially fund two food assistance programs that otherwise would not have qualified.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue asked for “insight” into the impact of Rees’ changes. One result is that an outreach program for homeless individuals will receive $11,200 less than it requested.

The city’s Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Team had requested $75,000 in CDBG funds, but was given only $63,800 under Rees’ plan. The program, which is managed by the nonprofit Milestone Foundation, provides daily, on-the-street help for people needing shelter or struggling with substance abuse.

The funding reduction will “cripple” the the program, according to a letter from the foundation, which was read by a city staffer.

Donoghue called that “a difficult price to pay for reallocation.”

The impact of such cuts prompted Suslovic to introduce a motion to amend Rees’ proposal, restoring the allocation of HUD funds to the amounts recommended by the committee. The motion died when it did not receive a second.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.