Squeezing blood out of a shrinking turnip

More than $300,000 in Medford's General Fund dollars are awaiting final disbursement approval from the City Council. And struggling social services leaders are expressing gratitude for receiving even a portion of the city's dwindling purse in this difficult economy.

"The demand for services is swamping everyone," said Jackie Shad, deputy director of the social service agency ACCESS Inc. "We are grateful to have the basic human needs recognized."

ACCESS has been tentatively approved to receive $100,453.

"They see we supply food," Shad said, "That's a pretty basic need."

Medford has allocated operating funds to nonprofit health and social services organizations for more than 25 years. But in January, the City Council voted 6-1 to suspend the formation of a grant subcommittee that helps screen and interview applicants until the city had a clearer picture of its budget outlook.

Shad and other social service agency leaders, concerned the city of Medford would eliminate nonprofit funding from its general fund grants, headed to City Hall in May and again in August to plead their cases.

After the series of public meetings, the council decided to continue providing revenue to nonprofit health and social services organizations.

For the 2009-2011 biennial budget, Medford funded local nonprofits at $550,000, or $275,000 per year. This year the committee determined there was only $300,200 available to fund the $678,150 in requests, said Lynnette O'Neal, assistant to the deputy city manager.

ACCESS, which received $182,600 of the $238,350 it requested in the last biennial budget, lowered its "ask" this time around, Shad said. ACCESS requested $183,000 for three of its programs (Food Share, Fresh Alliance and Senior/Disabled Services) for the coming biennium, she said.

"We did that out of what came out of the earlier hearings," Shad said. "You couldn't point to an agency on this list that's not needed."

The recommendations came from a nine-member general fund grant subcommittee comprising three members of the budget committee, three members of the City Council and three members from the public. The group reviewed the 31 received grant applications to determine which programs best met the "essential safety net" criteria at a final meeting on Sept. 7, said O'Neal.

Five of the applicants were found not to meet the essential safety net criteria, she said. The subcommittee recommended funding applications with an average score of 60 or higher. Allocations were made to the 26 remaining applicants, O'Neal said.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County scored above 90 percent on the criteria, and received the highest percentage of the amount it requested. The child advocacy agency stands approved to receive $5,820 of its requested $10,000 grant.

Jennifer Mylenek, executive director of CASA, said in May that the city gave her agency $3,600 in the last biennium — less than 1 percent of CASA's budget. CASA relies upon community fundraising to supply 55 percent of its annual budget. But it lost $20,000 in fundraising revenues this past year. Every penny counts in these tough economic times, Mylenek said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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