Portland councilors weigh grant requests

PORTLAND – Facing more than $3 million in funding requests, the City Council will have to make difficult choices April 9.

That’s when councilors will vote on City Manager Mark Rees’ proposal for distributing about $1.8 million in federal Community Development Block Grants.

Rees is recommending that the money be spent on a variety of community development projects, social service programs and job creation initiatives.

According to information on the city’s website, Portland’s grant allocation for 2012-13 is $416,890 less than it received for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Meanwhile, Rees said, the recession has caused an even greater need for job creation and child care.

"The national decrease in Community Development Block Grant funding has made this a difficult funding year," Rees said in a letter to Mayor Michael Brennan and the City Council. "Despite the high quality and worthiness of applicants, there is simply not enough funding to assist all those who applied."

In November, the city’s CDBG Annual Allocation Committee began reviewing and scoring more than 40 applications for funding in three categories — social services, community development, and economic development or job creation.

The committee said applicants sought $3.1 million in federal funds, leaving a gap of $1.3 million between available funding and requests.

Committee members forwarded their recommendations to Rees, who said he agreed with the majority of their suggestions.

Rees said he removed one development funding request from the list, saying that investing $248,860 to install street lights on Cumberland Avenue would be more effectively handled through the city’s capital improvement plan.

Advocates say the lights are needed to make the street safer.

Several representatives of agencies spoke at a hearing held by the council Monday night.

Donna Yellen, the Preble Street Resource Center’s advocacy director, thanked the city for supporting the agency, whose mission is to help the homeless.

Preble Street is in line for $180,000 to support its soup kitchen, resource center and Lighthouse Shelter — for homeless and runaway teenagers — and to renovate the soup kitchen’s floor and bathrooms.

Rees is recommending $188,000 for window replacement and restoration of the entrance to the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery.

Lynne Holler, who serves on the nursery’s board of directors, said the facility on Danforth Street is the oldest licensed child care establishment in Maine. It opened in 1922 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rees is also recommending $96,000 to repair leaky windows at the Portland Observatory, which was built in 1807. The observatory is a national historic landmark.

Not everyone who asked for grant money got recommended for funding.

The Opportunity Alliance, formerly known as PROP, sought $56,000 for its foster grandparents and senior companions program, and for the Parkside Neighborhood Center.

Also left out was a $40,000 request from the Frannie Peabody Center for its HIV client services emergency aid program.

Rees also is recommending:

  • $18,000 to make the Maine Irish Heritage Center handicapped-accessible.
  • $117,987 toward the restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House.
  • $45,000 in economic development funds to the Star East Cafe and Bakery.
  • $75,000 to the Milestone Foundation’s H.O.M.E. team, with reaches out to alcoholics living on the streets.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: