Portland City Council accepts manager's CDBG decisions

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PORTLAND — The City Council voted unanimously Monday to adopt Community Development Block Grant recommendations from City Manager Joe Gray.

The decision followed two public hearings marked by pleas from social service agencies and largely reflected that of the CDBG Allocations Committee, with a few notable exceptions. 

A new allocation process was used this year in an effort to curb past criticisms leveled at the city-administered federal grant program. The Allocations Committee created a 
point-based rating system to determine which programs receive
funding. In an attempt to make the review process more transparent, the city
made the rankings available to the public, along with the
recommendations made on March 20 by the allocation committee and the city manager.

The Allocations Committee’s recommendations were based entirely on the rating system, and included more than $51,000 for a Mercy Hospital crime watch program and more than $11,000 for a YMCA youth and family program.

But Gray used his own discretion, recommending that the YMCA program not receive any funding. He suggested a smaller grant of more than $38,000 for Mercy Hospital, and recommended funding three child-care programs: The Children’s Co-op, Peaks Island Childrens Workshop and Youth & Family Outreach. Two of the child-care programs were ranked in the bottom four according to the Allocation Committee’s rating system. 

Allocations Committee member Grace Braley said she wasn’t bothered that the committee’s recommendations were superseded by the city manager.

“Personally, I’m glad that the city manager did that for the day-care centers. Only one of the four day-care programs were funded based on the rating system we developed. But the day cares just don’t fit the criteria very well,” Braley said.

The public hearings were the last opportunity for social service programs to convince councilors to amend the recommendations made by both the Allocations Committee and the city manager.

Spiral Arts, RTP’s Food Shopping Program, The Center for African Heritage, Youth Alternatives/Ingraham and the Maine Irish Heritage Center were among the social service agencies that hadn’t ranked high enough on the rating scale to receive any funding this grant cycle. Councilors listened to representatives from these programs, among others, on Monday.

After a plea from a representative of Spiral Arts, City Councilor Dan Skolnik made a motion to allocate $5,000 to the program. City Councilor John Coyne also moved to take $5,000 from the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization and give it to the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association. Both motions failed 7-1, as most councilors rejected the merits of altering the recommendations made to them by Gray and the Allocations Committee.

“I felt the council debate was appropriate. I would have been disappointed if there hadn’t been a debate,” Braley said. She emphasized that this was a new rating system, and said she felt councilors were right in being cautious during the transition. 

Councilors also discussed holding a workshop at a future date to debate what, if any, discretionary role they should have in the funding process.

“I would like to see the council have more opportunity to influence this earlier in the process,” Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said. 

Heather Gunther can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or hgunther@theforecaster.net.