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Toledo City Council ended a drawn-out debate Tuesday over the distribution of federal funds to dozens of social service agencies, voting 7-2 in favor of legislation that eases proposed cuts to four homeless shelters and a troubled anti-poverty agency.
The newly approved legislation restores 75 percent of last year's Community Development Block Grant funding to the shelters Aurora House, Bethany House, La Posada, and Family House. The city's Department of Neighborhoods and an independent citizens' review panel had originally recommended eliminating all block-grant funds for the shelters this year.
Council also agreed to increase, by $70,000, the recommended allocation for the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, a politically connected community action agency with a history of controversy that scored poorly during the application process.
EOPA has been criticized for paying high salaries to its staff and failing to provide evidence of matching funds for the federal dollars it receives. Under the new legislation, EOPA will receive $270,000, compared with almost $376,000 last year.
To pay for the additional funding, council voted to take $215,000 from the city's capital improvements program to bolster the $6.8 million in block-grant money Toledo received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the current funding cycle. That prompted criticism from some councilmen, who argued against using local taxpayer dollars to supplement the federal funds.
"This isn't a perfect amendment," Councilman Adam Martinez acknowledged Tuesday in anticipation of the vote. "This is a good compromise."
Councilmen Rob Ludeman and D. Michael Collins voted against the legislation. Councilmen Joe McNamara, George Sarantou, and Tom Waniewski abstained from the vote.
Mr. Ludeman said he disagreed with using the capital improvements money and also felt EOPA should not have been awarded additional funds.
"I understand politically why it was done, because they had to bring a couple of votes into the fold," he said. The shelters "can use [the money] more effectively in my opinion than EOPA could."
Councilman Collins called the use of capital improvements money "a shell game." He lashed out at the Bell administration for what he described as a flawed funding process and also criticized the increase in funding for EOPA.
"This is in my opinion wrong, absolutely unconscionable," he raged.
But councilman Mike Craig and others said the taxpayer money at stake was relatively minuscule and urged passage of the legislation.
"We're fighting over $200,000 to keep families housed. It really doesn't seem like there should be much of a question at all," Mr. Craig said.
Council's decision was a relief for some agency officials who have been waiting for weeks to find out whether they'd get any federal money at all.
"Justice prevailed," said Renee Palacios, executive director of the shelter Family House, whose block-grant funding will drop by $18,000. "We were recommended for zero, and at the end of the day we've got a budget that includes [$64,000]."
Denise Fox, executive director of Aurora House, lamented the loss of funding, which she said adds to other budget hits her shelter has suffered in the past nine months. However, the director said she was heartened by statements from Councilman Lindsay Webb, who called on her colleagues after the vote to establish a committee to look at ways to improve the allocation process.
"There is hope," Ms. Fox said. "I know [council] has had some very tough decisions to make, and we appreciate that."
Not all shelters were happy with the outcome, however. Art Jones, chairman of the board for Bethany House, a domestic violence shelter, trembled with emotion as he condemned city council's decision.
His small agency, which has received block-grant funding since the 1980s, will get $23,000 less in federal funds than it did last year, he said.
"They don't care, I'm sorry, they don't care," he said of city council. "I've been getting [block grant] funding for all these years and now you're taking it away from me?"
Mr. Jones, who lost his daughter to domestic violence, said he will try to make up for the loss through additional fund-raising. "Somehow we've got to find a way," he said. "It's just sad."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.