By Seth Daniel
Several city councillors, two most prominently, are praising a process that played out on Monday night where the non-profits CAPIC and North Suffolk Mental Health appeared to answer questions from the body about how taxpayer funds are being used.
The conflict between the Council and some non-profits began several weeks ago when Councillor Damali Vidot put in for a hearing with all non-profits getting City money before passing the City Budget. That led to controversy last week when the Budget was passed prior to such a meeting taking place, in opposition to the wishes of Vidot and Councillor Judith Garcia.
Both this week said that non-profits taking City taxpayer money should be expected to come before the Council during budget time, like many City departments do, to give presentations on what the money is being used for and if its goals are being met. Both councillors said they would like to identify ways to perhaps use some of the non-profit money for other purposes.
Key to the pushback from the non-profit community was Roca, Inc. and its CEO Molly Baldwin, who submitted a front-page statement last week on the issue. Roca receives a budget earmark of $221,000 per year that is only a “just in case” expenditure. The money is part of the 10-Point Plan on Crime and was instituted as a safeguard for Roca against the loss of state grant funds. The idea is that if the state fails to fund Roca’s grant for work it does with the City, the $221,000 earmark would kick in. The money has never had to be used to date.
Roca also receives in excess of $100,000 from the City for contracted services to clean City streets and buildings with the organization’s work crews.
That said, both Vidot and Garcia told the Record that the money is tied up by the earmark and could be used for other things, such as Little League scholarships or Chelsea Pride funding or Chelsea Community Center Scholarships. They said that families with children who don’t qualify for Roca and are priced out of other activities could better use the money.
“How am I as a city councillor supposed to feel about $220,000 or any other amount of taxpayer money without knowing exactly where that money is going?” asked Vidot. “I want to know about the taxpayer dollars we spend and particularly with Roca when they have the social capital to raise money on their own. We have sports programs and parents who can’t pay to get their kids in them. It’s about transparency and accountability for all non-profits and leveling the playing field. If we catch our young people when there are impressionable, we can prevent the cycle so that they won’t require a program like Roca.”
Roca primarily serves high-risk young men who have come out of jail and are at risk for returning, as well as a young mothers program.”
Garcia agreed with Vidot and said asking questions of some of the more storied non-profits in the City doesn’t amount to an attack on them or an inquisition.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s a new City Council,” she said. “It’s not an attack on any organization or Roca. We’re six new elected officials. When you present a budget to us, we want to have an understanding of each line item and how it’s being utilized. That’s not unreasonable. It’s not like in the past where they gave us the budget document and we sign off on it. Now we have this process going on. That should have happened in the first place. It’s a new Council and we should have questions. No one should be offended by that. We can’t just sign off on everything without knowing what it is.”
Garcia went on to say that the idea to spread out some of the non-profit money came from a recent event she attended at Chelsea High School. She said after the awards, six seniors were outside and seemed very upset. After inquiring, she learned that they were down because they could no longer attend the Chelsea Community Center (CCC) where they had hung out for years.
Because they had now graduated high school, they no longer qualified for the student rate and would have to pay $300, which none of them had.
“They had essentially aged out and said they didn’t have anywhere to go now,” she said. “They were standing there saying, ‘Oh my God. What are we going to do all summer.’ I talked to the CEO and he said they couldn’t afford to do much to help, but he suggested maybe a scholarship program could be put in place. I thought that was a great idea. If we can put money aside for Roca, why no come up with a grant program for this too? That is the population right now that is so vulnerable, the 17 and 18-year-olds. It’s not that we don’t want to help Roca, but maybe we can spread out that money to other kids that need it.”
Back at the City Council on Monday, CAPIC Director Bob Repucci and Kim Hanton of North Suffolk Mental Health engaged the Council for almost two hours on the new treatment on demand services being used in conjunction with Navigators to help those addicted in Bellingham Square.
So far, Repucci said, they have placed 23 people in transitional housing after a detox program and have six that are employed and paying rent.
Both CAPIC and North Suffolk receive $125,000 for their contracts with the City.