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The city of Corvallis’ Community Involvement and Diversity Advisory Board has twice as much money to spend on its empowerment grant program this cycle.

In the past two years, the board has recommended to the City Council that it spend $5,000 on neighborhood empowerment grants. Because of the popularity of the program the council has budgeted $10,000 for this year, with the board adding community empowerment grants to its portfolio.

One of the challenges the board has faced is the requirement that grants be awarded to “neighborhood” groups. The new grant program opens things up for communitywide groups and projects.

It also means double the work for the board members and city staff. At Wednesday’s meeting criteria were approved for the community grants, but the board struggled with how to reorganize its review process.

A key piece of its protocol has been individual interviews with grant applicants at a public meeting of the board.  Several board members said being able to ask questions of the applicants was critical to understanding their proposals. Others were sympathetic to the potential increase in time demands.

Last year’s interview session lasted more than two hours. Double the application pool and that means a four-hour meeting … or perhaps two meetings. City staff recommended that the board not conduct the interviews and rely on the applications and grant seekers’ participation in workshops to winnow the list, but a motion to go that route failed on a 3-3 vote.

“I’m concerned that this is going to totally change things,” board member Emily Yeast said. “I got so much more info from the interviews, and I like the fact that it gave them the experience of speaking in front of the board and hearing the other presentations. Otherwise it’s who can write the best grant app.”

After further discussion board members decided to reconsider the matter at its Jan. 9 meeting. The application process is scheduled to open Feb. 1, with the board tentatively set to make its recommendations to the council May 1 (see information box for more key dates in the process).

Examples of projects funded by the grant program include the painted intersection at 11th Street and Taylor Avenue, a mural project in South Corvallis, invasive species removal in the Birdie Street neighborhood, emergency preparedness kits for the Arnold Park area and landscaping upgrades surrounding The Arts Center.

The board also said goodbye, with mint chocolate ice cream cake, to its council liaison, Penny York, who is retiring after three terms on the City Council. York played a key role in the formation of the board, which was developed by the public participation task force that York pushed as a council goal when she was elected in 2012.

The task force began meeting in September 2013. The board first met in October 2016. Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber is set to announced new council liaison assignments Jan. 7.

The board also welcomed a new member, Grace Atebe, the director of the Office of International Services at Oregon State University.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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