City revisits human services strategic plan

Efforts to amend Tacoma’s human services strategic plan, which directs how the city contracts with local service providers and establishes priorities for allocating city funds to those agencies, could be finalized later this month, according to a presentation yesterday during the city council study session.

The proposed amendments are the result of a four-month process involving more than 50 representatives from the human services community who provided input on where the city should focus general fund money earmarked for human services.

According to the advisory group, Tacoma should contract with organizations that prepare children and youth for success, encourage employability and self-sufficiency for adults, and help meet basic needs of Tacoma residents.

“A lack of affordable housing is probably the most outstanding need of people surveyed,” said Tacoma Housing Authority executive director Michael Mirra during the meeting yesterday. To that end, Mirra, who served on the advisory group, stressed the importance of contracting with agencies to meet basic needs.

“We have it on the list because there are some brutal needs for which we could not muster the complacency to ignore,” Mirra added.

Two amendments drew considerable interest from councilmembers yesterday.

One proposed amendment would provide funding up to 75 percent, and award the remaining 25 percent based on the level of service provided, thus creating a competitive, performance-based environment.

Councilmember Tom Stenger was concerned that by lumping all the agencies together in competition, some agencies providing specific services would be excluded. “Why not have similar programs compete with each other?” asked Stenger.

According to city staffer Debbie Bergthold, Tacoma has historically provided funding for various agencies across the board. “No one strategy has dominated,” said Bergthold. “They have been equally balanced.”

Coulmember Rick Talbert was concerned that the amendment would put undue pressure on agencies already doing good work, in order to compete and receive the additional funding. “It almost encourages folks to look at the new ways to provide services they’re already providing,” said Talbert. “[Why not] give [the money] to a group that’s already providing services at a high level?”

Another amendment mandates no program will receive more than 50 percent of its budget from the city, with the exception of programs that target cultural or ethnic minority populations. Currently, the limit on city funds that comprise an agency’s budget is 65 percent.

Councilmember Talbert disagreed with the amendment because it wasn’t performance-based.

Councilmember Mike Lonergan wondered if the amendment violated Initiative 200, which prohibits the state from granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in areas of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

Other proposed amendments include the following:

— programs will be funded at a minimum level off $10,000;

— programs that no longer sufficiently meet current priorities will receive 50 percent (or $10,000) of 2006 funding in 2007, and receive no funding thereafter (the city will offer technical assistance to help transition these agencies)

The city first adopted a human services plan in 1994 in order to contract out human services that assist seniors, children, and low-income individuals. Amendments were made to the plan in 1996, 1997, and 2000.

“This plan deploys a wide range of human service resources internally and externally,” said John Briehl, director of the city’s human rights and human services department.

A public hearing on the amendments will be held before city council decides whether to adopt the plan June 20.