City council members go to bat for favored community agencies

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community agencies
Members of Winston-Salem City Council hear a presentation from staff on the city's grants to community agencies. (photo by Jordan Green)

Winston-Salem City Council members plead for a rational framework to administer the city’s grants program for community agencies — and lobby for favorites.

Year after year, when Winston-Salem City Council sets the budget for grants to community agencies — an aggregate expenditure currently totaling $2.8 million — council members express a recurring desire to impose some rational framework for determining how to dole out funds to the myriad agencies.

During a budget workshop on Monday, Councilman Derwin Montgomery suggested that in the future he would like to see funding requests assessed on how well they align with core goals, such as Mayor Allen Joines’ campaign to curb poverty.

“If the organizations aren’t tying into those goals, then they may need to adjust, or we may need to adjust how we look at funding,” Montgomery said. “We can’t keep doing it the way we have been doing it.”

Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who has served on city council since 1977, concurred.

“We cannot continue to do business as we have been doing it,” she said.

In 2015, the city council established a Community Agency Allocation Committee to review requests and recommend funding levels for agencies.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to provide that oversight that’s necessary to protect the taxpayer dollars,” Councilman James Taylor said at the time. Councilwoman DD Adams said the focus of the citizen committee would be “to help us get to the next level of where our tax dollars are going.” She added, “We’ve got to see: Are they performing at the level they need to perform?”

On Monday, council members received two parallel recommendations, one from the Community Agency Allocation Committee and the other from City Manager Lee Garrity. The two sets of recommendations would increase annual spending on agency grants by $200,000 to $300,000, largely driven by an increase in federal funding.

Under the city’s Housing Finance Assistance Fund, the citizen committee recommended defunding Liberty East Redevelopment, an agency that has no website and hasn’t filed with the NC Corporations Division since 1989. Garrity parted ways with the citizen committee by recommending that the agency’s annual grant of $31,150 be renewed.

Burke took a mild jab at the citizen committee, while remarking that she and the mayor might be the only two people fully aware of the agency’s work to provide services in LaDeara Crest Estates, a low-income community in the Northwest Ward, which she represents.

“It’s been called to my attention, Mr. City Manager, that some of the people who look at this money — some of our volunteer citizens — are not quite up on what it has done,” Burke said. “It is the oldest [community development corporation] we have in this city…. It’s important for them to know the history before they start cutting things out.”

Garrity sounded contrite. “Some of it was a communication problem — my office working with Liberty East Redevelopment — help them do a better job of writing up,” he said. “You and I know, and the mayor knows the things they did, but they didn’t put a lot of that in their application, so we’re gonna do a better job.”

Other council members lobbied their colleagues to add funding for favored projects that either didn’t make the cut or received allocations below requested levels.

Adams pleaded with her colleagues to assist Family Services with funds to help pay for renovations to its Head Start building near the struggling Rolling Hills Apartments. The agency is requesting $150,000. The citizen committee recommended no funding, while the city manager proposed $50,000 contingent on a matching grant from the county. Adams suggested that the city kick in $75,000 while asking the county to contribute the same amount.

“If we want to talk about education in Forsyth County and the people in the inner city, which has more Title I schools and the lowest performing schools in the state and in the country, and we know how important pre-K is, I feel like we need to be offering up more than $50,000,” said Adams, who is running for Congress in the 5th District.

Mayor Joines intervened on behalf of Winston-Salem Mixxer, which is seeking funding to launch a maker space. Under the citizen committee’s proposal, Mixxer would be among six first-time recipients that could take advantage of funds freed up by moving the National Black Theatre Festival to programs funded through the hotel occupancy tax. Other new potential recipients include A/perture Cinema, Authoring Action, Crosby Scholars, Triad Cultural Arts and LEAD Girls of NC.

“We’re trying to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem here,” Joines said in his plug for Mixxer. “I would say if our [property tax] revenue comes in a little stronger than the county has projected we reconsider the Mixxer. This is a great space that creates entrepreneurial opportunity. If they have an idea, they can go and make it happen.”

Based on a recent notification that the federal government would have additional funds available through the Home Investment Partnerships Program, Garrity is recommending that Habitat for Humanity’s annual grant to develop single-family housing for occupant ownership be increased from $142,000 to $207,000.

Budget Director Patrice Toney said federal notification of additional funding through the Community Development Block Grant is also driving recommended increases. Based on the additional federal dollars, both the citizen committee and the city manager recommended funding a $100,000 request by Bethesda Center for the Homeless, where Councilman Montgomery serves as executive director, to renovate its day shelter, and a $104,143 request from the YWCA to renovate and expand its women’s residential drug treatment center. Based on further notification of additional federal funds, Garrity also recommended a $65,000 grant to the SG Atkins Community Development Corp. to hire a program developer and kitchen manager for a food incubator and pop-up restaurant, and a $55,000 grant to the Parenting Path, a child-abuse prevention agency, to replace the HVAC system at its Northwest Boulevard facility.

The citizen committee and city manager proposed some tweaks to the slate of agency grants under the city’s Successful Outcomes After Release program. The initiative, which focuses on support for ex-offenders, is particularly important to Councilman Taylor, who chairs the city council’s public safety committee.

The city manager recommends cutting a $10,000 grant to Self-Empowerment Lasts Forever. The citizens committee recommends cutting grants of $5,000 each to Hoops4LYFE, an after-school program, and My Brother’s Second Chance. The citizens committee argued that both agencies have received seed funding for the past two years, and should not receive recurring monies. Both the city manager and the citizen advisory committee recommended adding $5,000 for Beating Up Bad Habits, a boxing program that serves the Latinx community, while the citizen committee alone recommended adding $5,000 for Youth Achieving Moral Maturity.

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