Community Action panel criticizes Ecker budget

May 04, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The executive director of the Community Action Council last night criticized the Ecker administration for not increasing her proposed budget above current levels.

"We are disappointed, and rightfully so, that our funding was kept at the fiscal 1994 level," Dorothy L. Moore, the executive director, told a Howard County Council budget hearing.

To avoid any further loss of funding, Ms. Moore urged the council "to approve, not cut" her agency's proposed $236,980 budget for fiscal 1995 -- the same amount as this year.

She said she learned only this week that $50,000 she thought was going to be spread among all grant recipients was instead allotted to a single issue -- homelessness.

"I am surprised and concerned that all the [$50,000] is going for a sole purpose," Ms. Moore said. "I recognize homelessness as a need but not to that extent."

Ms. Moore said that as Howard's sole anti-poverty agency, the Community Action Council is in "a unique, credible position to assess the county's diversity of needs," but was not consulted on the homelessness issue. She said a housing summit that made the $50,000 request for a computerized case management program for the homeless was seriously flawed in that the summit did not include low-income and minority participants.

With the exception of the education portion of the budget, the County Council can only accept or cut what the executive proposes. Ms. Moore appealed to the council to lobby County Executive Charles I. Ecker to change the budget.

"When dealing with the needs of poor people, re-examination is always appropriate," Ms. Moore said. "There is no agency in the county better for dealing with homelessness than the Community Action Council."

The $50,000 request had come into question earlier when Edmund Coale, president of the board of directors of Careerscope, complained that his job-finding agency was taking 50 percent cut in Mr. Ecker's proposed budget. The agency received $20,760 in the current fiscal year, but is slated to receive only $10,380 in the coming one. It is the only agency among grant recipients to receive so drastic a cut, he told council members.

"Sixty-three percent of our clients are experiencing a significant financial crisis" as a result of unemployment or under-employment, Mr. Coale said. "We rely heavily on the county grant-in-aid to keep our fees affordable."

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a 5th District Republican, said he was disappointed that the Careerscope grant had been halved and that he would look for a way to restore it. "I know we can't increase it but maybe we could shift some money around."

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, suggested that Mr. Feaga look to the $50,000 proposed for homeless management as a place to do some shifting.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, said she might look to the county's public relations officer. She has suggested for several years that the position be eliminated, saving the county $80,000, she said last night.

Other grant-in-aid recipients and representatives from Howard Community College echoed Ms. Moore's request that the council approve without cuts the amounts in their proposed budgets. With the exception of the community college and Careerscope, all would receive the same amount of funding in fiscal 1995 as they received this year.

The council will hold its final public hearing on Mr. Ecker's proposed $316 million operating budget and $61 million capital budget at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night. It will set the tax rate and vote at noon May 23 on the overall budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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