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Bureaucratic confusion mars social service contracting process

Thursday, September 22, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

The city’s social service contracting process hit another snag this week when staff informed Council that they will have to make changes to two items on today’s agenda. As of Wednesday night, staff had yet to resolve the confusion. A city spokesperson said a memo to Council members is forthcoming.


On Sept. 15, the Health and Human Services Committee voted to recommend three-year contracts with 30 social service agencies. In addition, the committee approved a plan to fund, for one year, four social service agencies that would not be receiving any of that money. If approved by Council that “transitional funding” plan would be paid for with $380,000 in unallocated money from the FY2009-2010 HHS budget. The committee also voted to extend the contracts of the 42 social service agencies currently being funded by the city for six months, from Oct. 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012.


Council is scheduled to vote on those last two items today, its last meeting of FY2011. That’s important because the City Charter requires that items concerning the allocation of funds from FY2011 be adopted before the end of FY2011. However, at Tuesday’s Council work session, staff informed Council members that they will have to clear up a number of clerical and mathematical concerns and inconsistencies before such a vote is possible.


For example, the $380,000 “transitional” plan includes funding the Council on At-Risk Youth through FY2012 at $176,400. However, staff realized that the Council for At-Risk Youth is also on the list of groups that would receive funding under the terms of the committee’s second, six-month plan. In other words, if both items were approved today, the city would be double funding the group for those six months.


Vince Cobalis, assistant director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, told Council that to fix the problem staff had simply removed the Council for At-Risk Youth from the six-month-extension item, freeing up about $110,000 in funds that Council can allocate to other agencies.


However, Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo told In Fact Daily that it is possible that staff could just cut the amount of funding the Council for At-Risk Youth would receive under the terms of the one-year extension plan by half, or $88,200.


Meanwhile, Council Member and Health and Human Services Committee Chair Mike Martinez pointed out that the committee had originally planned to fund Immigration Counseling and Outreach Services for one year at $70,540 but that considerably less money would be necessary to fund the group at its FY2010 level.


“Council and Outreach Services requested $70,540 but their 2010 funding was about $21,000,” said Martinez. “So we’re trying to hold them harmless instead of getting them everything they requested because we’re not giving anyone everything they’ve requested.”


Martinez said he would be making a motion to amend the item to reduce funding for Immigration Counseling and Outreach Services to $21,000, freeing up an additional $49,000. Add that to the reduction in funding for the Council for At-Risk Youth and the city is looking at $137,200 in unallocated funds.


Martinez asked if staff could amend the posting language of the item to allow Council to allocate that money to a different social service contractor. City Attorney Karen Kennard said no.


“The language looks very specific,” Kennard said. “It doesn’t allow much leeway to add another entity. It narrows the scope of what action you take to those three (groups).”


According to Van Eenoo, what “most likely” will end up happening is that the debate over what to do with those extra funds will be pushed back to Council’s Oct. 6 meeting, which will fall after the FY2011 deadline. That would make things more difficult for staff but hardly impossible.


“Getting the funds into (today’s agenda) would be the more convenient way to do it, let’s put it that way,” Van Eenoo told In Fact Daily. “City charter says that any funds that are not expended or encumbered by the end of the fiscal year revert to the fund balance. That means that when the FY12 budget begins they’re no longer there, but Council still has the authority to take action to appropriate those monies back into the budget. It’s just an extra administrative hoop we would have to jump through to get those monies allocated.”


Speaking of administrative hoops, staff also moved the fourth group the committee recommended for one year of transitional funding – Austin Travis County Integral Care – out of that item and into another on today’s agenda because the group’s arrangement with the city is part of a three-way interlocal agreement with Travis County and the Downtown Community Court with its own guidelines and regulations.


That should free up $71,000, bringing the possible total of unallocated social service funding to $208,200, a significant number considering just how much money has been cut from social service funding and just how many social service agencies felt jilted by this year’s new competitive process.

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