A list of projects and initiatives in line for nearly $700,000 in new funding in Mayor Betsy Hodges' 2016 budget were questioned Friday by council members concerned money is being set aside for efforts that lack clear direction.
The concerns were raised during the the latest in a long series of hearings on the mayor's $1.2 billion budget proposal. Friday's meetings, attended by about half of the 13-member council, included requests from the City Coordinator's Office for projects ranging from autism awareness for Somali families to a literacy program for young children.
Among the line items in the budget were $20,000 for the Somali autism program, another $20,000 for bicycle and pedestrian education efforts aimed at the city's East African population, $50,000 for a "Word Gap" project that would provide reading and language instruction materials to a variety of local nonprofit groups, and $100,000 for partnerships with a variety of community groups.
The Coordinator's Office also requested $160,000 for the development of something it calls the "Centers of Excellence." It was described as a way to create a "more strategic approach to improving business processes" across city government.
Councils Member Elizabeth Glidden, John Quincy and Linea Palmisano questioned several of the items, asking officials about how the programs and projects had been selected, why the ended up in the City Coordinator's budget, and how the money would be used.
Glidden said she found the issues worth of support. But she wondered why, for example, the city planned to spend $50,000 on the the Word Gap project, an offshoot of the mayor's Cradle to K initiative aimed at improving the health and long-term success of babies and children. She noted that the mayor's office doesn't operate programs and that the city had not yet found another group to administer such an effort.
Deputy City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde and Angela Watts, a policy aide in the mayor's office, said the city has reached out to other groups, including the Northside Achievement Zone, and that those groups have agreed to be "key lead agencies" on the project.
"It will be leveraging our existing partners as we move outwardly," Rivera-Vandermyde said. "It is something that in line with a national initiative."
Council members, unsatisfied with some of the explanations, pushed further.
Some said they also wanted more information on $145,000 set aside to consolidate the city's communications strategies. Council Member Blong Yang said he'd like to see a bigger review of how the city makes decisions on how it provides information to a variety of communities. He said each department often seems to fend for itself in decisions about when to translate materials or spend money to target particular groups.
"Everyone wants to do outreach, but it's all over the place," he said. "I feel like if we can figure that out, our costs for outreach are going to be minimized."
The council will vote on the budget in December, following public hearings. The first of those hearings is scheduled for Nov. 18.