Anti-poverty programs threatened, agency says

May 08, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Unless the Community Action Council gets $14,000 more from county government in the coming fiscal year, it may be forced to cancel two anti-poverty programs, the agency's executive director told the County Council on Friday.

"We're trying to see how to continue all services," Dorothy L. Moore told the council, "but unless we get those funds, we'll be meeting to decide which services to drop."

The most likely candidates are the surplus commodities program and the fuel fund, Ms. Moore said. The surplus commodities program provides cheese and other foodstuffs to the poor, and the fuel fund last year helped 1,400 low-income households get through the winter.

Ms. Moore addressed the council Friday, after a daylong work session in which council members questioned department heads about their budget requests for the coming fiscal year.

She said the Community Action Council needs the extra money to provide raises to nine full- and part-time employees who administer the agency's programs.

Community Action Council staff members have not received raises since July 1992, Ms. Moore told the council.

Meanwhile, increases in retirement benefits, worker's compensation insurance, and unemployment insurance have forced the agency to keep some positions vacant to meet expenses, she said.

Ms. Moore gave the council a list of the nine positions ranging in salary from $2,948 a year for a bookkeeper to $21,858 a year for a director of programs. She proposed giving each of the nine people a 7 percent cost-of-living increase and a 2 percent merit raise.

Together, the raises would amount to $12,049 plus $1,457 in benefits, for an overall total of $13,506.

Under the new pay scale, the lowest-paid worker would receive $3,155 and the highest-paid worker would receive $23,856. The average annual increase would amount to $1,339 a year.

Ms. Moore made a similar request in a public hearing last year, but the request was denied. This year, when told by administration officials not to request more than last year's funding, she not only spoke at a public hearing but also asked for a meeting with the council to lobby members for more money.

With the exception of the education portion of the budget, the council cannot restore what the executive cuts from departmental requests. But the council can lobby the executive for amendments that would add more money to the budget or shift the money around.

Last year, for example, Patricia Hatch, executive director of the county's Foreign-born Information and Referral Network, lobbied the council so successfully that $30,000 was added to her grant-in aid request.

Afterward, some other grant-in-aid recipients complained about what they thought was a deviation from the grant-in-aid process, saying they would have lobbied the council for more money had they known it was a possibility.

Ms. Moore told the council Friday that she has spoken with other grant-in-aid recipients who also need increases but have not been as forward in demanding them.

She recommended that the council take $60,000 earmarked for a computerized tracking program for social service clients and use the money instead to help needy social service agencies, such ** rTC as the Community Action Council.

County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said the $60,000 client tracking program grew out of a homeless summit conference last fall.

The money would be used to set up a network of computers in social service agencies so that agencies could track clients and share a common data base, he said.

Participants at the homeless conference listed the client tracking program as its No. 1 priority, Mr. Wacks said. But Ms. Moore said that the summit conference was flawed because "there was no attempt to get the homeless" to attend.

County Citizens Services Director Manus J. O'Donnell, who meets with the council at a work session tomorrow morning, is expected to provide his rationale for recommending that the client tracking program be included in the budget. Mr. O'Donnell's department handles all grant-in-aid requests.

Ms. Moore said she had been told in February that $60,000 would be added to the grants-in-aid portion of the human services budget. She said she assumed the money would be spread among grant recipients, until she learned of the client tracking request in a letter from Mr. O'Donnell two weeks ago.

All but two of the 26 grant-in-aid recipients are slated to receive the same funding in the fiscal 1995 budget, which begins July 1, as they got in the current year. A request for career counseling for unemployed and underemployed workers was cut in half from $20,760 to $10,380, and a request for arts financing was %J increased by $13,800 over the current budget.

The council will set the tax rate and vote May 23 on the county's overall budget for fiscal 1995.

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