Energy assistance feud continues

City at odds with state over application sites

September 02, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore residents who want to apply for energy assistance at six community centers will not be turned away, even though the city is trying to consolidate that function at one location, officials said yesterday.

The policy appeared to be a change from a recent plan to stop accepting the applications at the centers and begin taking them only at 2700 N. Charles St.

City officials said yesterday that they never planned to turn anyone away at the centers, an impression that Mayor Martin O'Malley said was created by "mistruths" and "falsehoods" spread by state officials.

Last month, the plan to consolidate applications at North Charles Street added to a long-running feud between the city and officials of the state Department of Human Resources. The state agency funds the energy assistance program, which the city's Department of Housing and Community Development administers.

Norris P. West, spokesman for the state agency, said the mayor was backing away from his consolidation plan and trying to blame the state for the apparent about-face.

"He's confusing the public by giving mixed signals about where and how to apply for energy assistance," West said. "Nothing could be more detrimental to quality service."

Reggie Scriber, who oversees the city housing department's Office of Community Services, said in an interview last month that applications would no longer be accepted at the centers except in emergencies or if the applicant is disabled.

The idea was to free up staff at the centers to work door to door in neighborhoods where, among other things, they would accept energy applications, Scriber said at the time.

"You must go to 2700 Charles Street to apply for energy assistance," fliers distributed at the centers said.

A July 29 memo to Scriber from Charles L. Fowlkes, the housing agency's energy program administrator, refers to Scriber's "decision that the community action centers will not be taking [energy] applications."

"Maybe that was a misunderstanding," Scriber said yesterday. "We said all the time we would take applications [at the centers] but the major focus of the applications would be 2700 North Charles."

The state Department of Human Resources announced in an Aug. 9 news release that the city had stopped taking the applications at the centers. At the time, city housing officials questioned why the state was announcing a change in a city-run program, but they did not dispute that applications would no longer be taken at the centers.

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