Representatives of five social service agencies in the Corvallis area urged the City Council on Thursday to do more to help the groups fulfill their missions in the community.
Kari Rieck (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Ann Craig (Jackson Street Youth Shelter), Ben Danley (Community Outreach), Kate Caldwell (Old Mill Center) and Helen Higgins (Boys & Girls Club) made a joint appearance during the community comments section of a work session whose key agenda item was reviewing the council policy on social service funding.
The agency leaders made a series of suggestions to the council:
• That it should add prevention and intervention to the current funding priorities of emergency and transitional services.
• That it should consider a two-year funding cycle for social services to save time and administrative costs.
• That it should give the groups feedback on how to improve the reports that they provide to the city.
• That social service funding requests be placed before the voters on a levy.
• And that a city advisory committee be formed to be a conduit between the agencies and the city. “We see every day what the needs are,” Higgins said.
Higgins also made an impassioned plea during the discussion that followed.
“We’re trying to start the conversation,” she said. “Everybody is pushing things off their plate and kicking things down the road. We’re trying, but we’re falling behind.”
Higgins noted the impact of the state’s minimum wage increase, rising health care costs and cited as an example of the need the recent closure of COI’s emergency shelter because of budget shortfalls.
“Why can’t we spend for parks, libraries, climate change — and children? Can’t we be on the same level? We’re tired and heartbroken. We are the voice for people who have no voice, but we keep getting pushed aside. That’s my soapbox.”
Higgins and Bettina Schempf of the Old Mill Center made a similar plea to Benton County officials during last month’s budget deliberations, asking for $35,000 to fund mental health services. The request was denied, and Higgins and Schempf expressed frustration because the budget included nearly $500,000 for the Benton County Historical Society.
Councilors thanked the agency heads for coming and praised them for working together but did not offer any immediate assistance. The Council currently spends approximately $360,000 per year on social services, with the allocations determined by the United Way of Benton and Lincoln Counties.
Councilors reached consensus (no votes are taken at work sessions) to continue to use the United Way to screen requests while spending the next year evaluating the city’s approach to social service funding. A key question to be answered is where in the city budget funds to battle homelessness should be slotted.
Approximately $120,000 of those social service funds come from the city’s local option property tax levy, which the voters passed in 2013. The five-year levy, which raises approximately $3 million a year, expires June 30, 2019. It pays for library, senior center and pool services as well as new police officers, a fire prevention officer and planning and code enforcement staffers.
One of the possible options for the council as it reviews current budget challenges is to place a renewal of the levy on a future ballot. Should the city do so, it could consider designating social service agencies to receive funds should the voters approve it.