NIAGARA FALLS – A split City Council on Monday night awarded $150,000 in city funds to one of the area’s largest service providers to the poor and mentally ill, which said it is in the midst of a financial crisis.
Lawmakers voted, 3-2, to award the casino revenue funding to Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, whose representatives have been meeting with city officials for several weeks working on a deal.
The organization, headquartered on Buffalo Avenue, provides most of its services within the city limits but offers some programs elsewhere in Niagara County.
The city funding will be transferred in payments of $75,000, $50,000 and $25,000 over the next year, according to the resolution approved by the Council. The final deal, once drafted by the city’s Law Department, will require periodic audits of Community Missions, which initially requested that the money be paid all at once.
The money, according to lawmakers who supported the award, would only be a one-time payment and not a recurring payment made in future years.
“The goal is to get them back on their feet,” said Council Chairman Charles A. Walker, who voted in favor of awarding the funding along with Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti and Councilman Andrew P. Touma.
Touma said the decision to support the deal was not easy, though he called Community Missions “an integral part of this community.” Touma said the organization’s circumstances include money owed to the IRS and two liens against its property, but not having the services would have a spiraling negative effect on the city.
City Controller Maria C. Brown had made requests for further financial information from the organization, according to lawmakers, some of whom said sufficient answers were given, while other lawmakers said the responses were lacking.
Community Missions President Michael F. Lewis, who said that most of the organization’s difficulties resulted from financial matters out of its control, said the city funding will help the organization achieve financial stability.
Brown’s requests, according to Lewis, included information on how the organization was to change its billing structure, as well as about staff raises, which Lewis described as “small” and “incremental.”
The raises are necessary because the staff includes credentialed individuals with a high level of training whose wages have to be competitive, Lewis said, and losing credentialed staff would threaten compliance with state contracts.
Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian, who voted against awarding the funding, said that while all organizations like this do very important work, he believes that it should not be up to taxpayers to fund every group that asks City Hall for money.