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GF City council seems likely to leave CDBG dispersement to United Way

The Grand Forks City Council appears more willing to let United Way continue to disperse money from a $200,000 social services fund following a meeting Monday.

The Grand Forks City Council appears more willing to let United Way continue to disperse money from a $200,000 social services fund following a meeting Monday.

Council member Eliot Glassheim, who had expressed skepticism earlier that the council should take back that power, convinced several of his colleagues that doing so would only politicize the process.

Some representatives of nonprofit agencies that provide the social services had reminded him, he said, of "past battles where one agency was pitted against another."

Other agencies

As Glassheim described it, agencies were lobbying their favorite council members to take money from other agencies.


And that was when the city had more money and, according to the agencies, the need for social services was not as great. This trend doesn't appear to be reversing anytime soon, and agency representatives anticipate that diminishing resource would lead to greater conflict.

Council member Doug Christensen, who had favored having the council taking back control, and Council President Hal Gershman agreed the council didn't need to arbitrate that kind of conflict.

Council member Mike McNamara insisted, however, that elected city officials need to have final say on tax dollars being spent. "It might call for a little restraint on our part," he said, in reference to the potential for lobbying.

The tax dollars in question, though, are Community Development Block Grants, which are federal funds. These grants are given to communities with certain conditions on how they may be used, but neither the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nor Congress actually exercises the kind of oversight McNamara suggests.

The government, instead, audits fund recipients.

In a compromise, Christensen suggested it might make more sense to give the council the role of an appeal committee should agencies feel United Way had wronged them. As this is not especially different from having agencies lobby the council, Gershman suggested certain rules limiting when agencies may appeal.

The council also could issue broad policy directives to United Way prior to turning the money over to be dispersed, Glassheim and McNamara agreed. This might include, for example, a directive one year to focus on helping north end residents and in another year to focus on the poorest of the poor.

Ironically, the amount of money being fought over - $200,000, less the 10 percent taken out for administrative overhead - is a pittance compared to the annual budget many social service agencies, as one agency representative noted. But the money could be used to get matching funds from private foundations, allowing a small amount of tax dollars to leverage much greater private dollars.


Agencies that receive CDBG funding do not need to belong to United Way, which merely allocates the funds.

The allocation committee, made up of United Way volunteers, typically have spent much more time researching community needs - a task that would otherwise revert to the city's Urban Development Office, according to United Way president Pat Berger.

Asked why the administrative overhead has been as high as 15 percent in past years, she said the allocation process also includes ensuring agencies receiving funds fill out the proper paperwork. Federal funding, she said, brings with it a lot of paperwork.

Tran reports on City Hall. Reach him at (701) 780-1248 or ttran@gfherald.com or see his blog at www.areavoices.com/gfhcitybeat .

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