PORTLAND – With more than 20 funding requests, the City Council struggled Monday to decide how best to allocate the $1 million in federal funds it had available for social services.

After three hours, the council made only one change to City Manager Joe Gray’s recommendation, voting 5-4 to reallocate $50,000 from the police department’s community policing program to Learning Works. The organization, known previously as Portland West, provides educational opportunities to refugees and low-income families.

Some councilors said the community policing funds could be restored in the upcoming budget process, though officials said there is no certainty that a community policing station — the city operates four — will not have to be closed because of the cut.

Councilors voted to allocate just over $1 million to social service organizations such as Preble Street, the Wayside South Kitchen, the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, the Frannie Peabody Center and the city-run health care program for the homeless.

Their decision left many agencies, including a day care program on Peaks Island, the Day One substance abuse program and Home Health Visiting Nurses, with no Community Development Block Grant funding for the year that starts July 1.

The council also authorized $1.3 million to a variety of development programs, including a controversial $66,000 allocation to create jobs at Hot Suppa! a for-profit restaurant.

The length and nature of the deliberations — the Learning Works vote was resurrected by a councilor on the prevailing side after it had been voted down — caused a couple of councilors to question the process for determining who received aid.

“I’ve been doing this for a number of years and I’d have to say this is the most bizarre,” said Councilor Cheryl Leeman.

The city relied on a committee to score social service agencies’ funding projects. The city manager then threw his support behind its recommendations.

Agency after agency testified Monday night, pleading with the City Council to stand by or reconsider the manager’s recommendations.

Pamela Plumb, speaking for the Iris Network, thanked the city for allocating $100,000 toward an expansion of the program, which serves people who are visually impaired or blind.

But the council didn’t provide funds for Day One, which provides substance abuse services for adolescents.

“Over the years we have served a number of young people and their families,” said Don Burke, speaking for the agency. “We have used the money from the city to build on our programs. It has been a powerful little piece of money.”

Councilors offered amendments that would have restored funds to social service agencies. All but the Learning Works measure were defeated.

Councilors were conflicted, pointing out that there were more worthy causes than money available.

“It’s not about us funding pet projects. It’s about spreading the money out as best we can,” said Councilor Dory Waxman.

“The program isn’t about funding agencies, it is about funding outcomes,” said Councilor Kevin Donoghue, whose proposal to reallocate $5,000 to a day care program on Peaks Island failed. One mother who works on the island said she would be forced to find day care on the mainland.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]