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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
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Community groups overwhelm Madison with requests for onetime funds
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Palm: "You think $200,000 is going to stop all these problems?"
Palm: "You think $200,000 is going to stop all these problems?"
Credit:Carolyn Fath

In July, the Madison Common Council got some extra cash from an early loan repayment. It decided to take $200,000 of the money and offer it to community groups for "emerging needs."

But when the application deadline rolled around on Sept. 6, the city had received 75 funding requests -- totaling $2.5 million.

"Given the relatively short turnaround, I was a little bit surprised, not just at the number of applications but also the scope," says Jim O’Keefe, director of Madison's community development division. "I can imagine it's going to be a difficult process to get this down to $200,000."

The smallest request was from the Northside Planning Council ($3,300), O'Keefe says. The largest two were from the YWCA ($173,000) and the Christian Community Action Coalition ($172,000). A committee will now winnow through the applications with the hope of making recommendations to the council by Oct. 1.

The city awards community service contracts on a two-year cycle, meaning agencies can apply for money only every other year. The emerging needs fund was created to give the city some flexibility in helping out during a year when no new contracts are awarded. It was intended as one-time money, but some warned that community groups will expect the funds to be available every year.

Ald. Larry Palm says the funding will unavoidably increase demands on city resources. "You think $200,000 is going to stop all these problems?" he says. "People who don’t get the money are going to continue to seek money for their programs, and people who do get it are going to use it as an example of how viable their program is" and argue for more funding.

The city is going to have a tough choice, he says, since there are likely program requests coming from every alder's district.

"It's hard to say this neighborhood should get money for something and these other neighborhoods shouldn't get it at all," he says. "The strongest proposals might be citywide or regional."

Ald. Lisa Subeck agrees that it will be tough to pick the best proposals, but she's pleased the city received so many. "What we'll be looking for are needs that aren't already being met," she says. "It gives us an opportunity to really choose some unique and innovative programs."

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