Portland City Manager outlines block grant budgets

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PORTLAND — Each year, City Manager Jon Jennings knows demand exceeds supply when it comes to Community Development Block Grant funding.

“We received almost $2.9 million in requested funds and my recommended allocation is for roughly $1.7 million,” Jennings said in a Feb. 28 statement about the upcoming budget.

On Monday, city councilors set March 19 and April 18 hearing dates for the CDBG budget that helps fund social service and economic development programs in the city. The funding originates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The final allocation to the city has not been determined, so Jennings used the current amount as his placeholder in the fiscal year 2019 CDBG budget, he said.

Determining budget priorities and allocations begins each fall as the nine-member CDBG Allocation Committee reviews applications and makes its recommendations to Jennings. He can then amend them, and the entire budget must be approved by councilors.

A council vote on the CDBG budget is scheduled for April 18.

“As you will see from my recommendations, I tried to align my decisions with the Allocation Committee while still looking at the overall impact these programs have on the city,” Jennings said.

Within the $1.9 million CDBG budget, which includes $364,000 for program administration and planning, Jennings has allocated $891,000 for six economic development and construction recipients.

The social services portion of the budget has $626,000 to be spent on 11 programs. The social service funding also includes $20,000 in proceeds from the Cotton Street parking lot sold by the city last year.

Social service block grants were the most sought, with requests amounting to $1.5 million. Of those annual allocations, $150,000 is automatically set aside to help fund community policing.

Of the nine applications evaluated, scored and recommended by the committee, Jennings amended five, principally in an effort to fund the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement, or HOME Team, operated by the Milestone Foundation on India Street.

The HOME team had not been recommended for any funding by the committee as its score was 11th on the list. Jennings, however, said the outreach efforts were too vital to be left out of the mix.

“The HOME team and medical outreach save the city an estimated $250,000 in emergency services while providing these individuals with quality care,” Jennings said. “Not funding (it) could mean life or death for some of Portland’s most vulnerable individuals.”

Jennings also added $20,000 to assist the Florence House, a Valley Street housing first-initiative operated by Avesta Housing, and added $59,000 to fund efforts to help long-term homeless shelter occupants find stable housing.

The money to assist Florence House came from the Cotton Street parking lot sale proceeds, Jennings said.

From the budgeted spending for economic development, Jennings shifted $100,000 of the $398,000 recommended for sidewalk work on Preble Street to help fund the construction of a “North Woods Adventure Playground” at Dougherty Field on St. James Street.

Jennings also added $12,000 from CDBG contingency funds to help pay for water heater replacements at Port Resources, a nonprofit “assisting people with developmental and behavioral health challenges to live meaningful lives in their communities,” according to its website.

While amending some recommendations, Jennings says he knew the committee had a difficult task made harder by the scarcity of funding.

“I want to thank the Committee for staying focused on the scoring criteria and the information provided in each application in order to be fair to all applicants. While my recommendation differs slightly from theirs, I am extremely thankful for their critical role in this process,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

City Manager Jon Jennings, seen at a July 31, 2017, meeting, on March 5 introduced a new CDBG budget to fund social service and economic development programs.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.