By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty will give $97,000 to various social services in fiscal year 2015.
Last Tuesday, Feb. 25, the city council approved a pledge of $10,000 to the 1105 Project, a capital campaign that consolidated social service organizations into a single location in Iowa City.
When council member Terry Donahue balked at giving funds to support a construction project outside of town– initially the lone voice of dissent– he leveraged his vote to get another $4,000 for the North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry.
In September 2012, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors agreed to sell its former Public Health building for $1 to the Crisis Center of Johnson County. The remodeled 7,300 square foot building supplements the Crisis Center’s location next door, and the rest is leased to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), the National Alliance on Mental Health of Johnson County (NAMI-JC) and Iowa City’s Free Lunch Program. The 1105 Project– named for its location at 1105 Gilbert Ct.– required both exterior and interior improvements to the building, resulting in a $1.25 million construction loan.
Capital Campaign Chair Sara Langenberg, of North Liberty, told the city council last week that the group is in its final stages of raising funds to pay off that loan, the payments for which eats into the operational budgets of the four nonprofit entities that share the space and work together. Each entity provides its own unique assistance such as a crisis hotline, food bank and free meals, emergency assistance, domestic violence intervention, mental health support or disaster recovery, but because the organizations are housed in the same location, their collaborative approach results in more comprehensive assistance to victims of violent crime, people who deal with food insecurity, and those dealing with mental health issues in themselves or their family members.
The need for the project, though, was to make payments on the construction loan.
In December, said Langenberg, the capital campaign was $300,000 short, and appealed to the cities of Coralville and Iowa City for assistance. Iowa City had already given $280,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding.
“Iowa City bowled us over with their $300,000 challenge,” said Langenberg.
The Iowa City council voted to give 1105 fundraisers $100,000 if the project could raise $200,000 on its own. When Langenberg came to North Liberty last week, her group still needed $163,000 by April 14 to meet the challenge.
“That’s where North Liberty comes in,” said Kristie Doser, Executive Director of the DVIP.
“North Liberty has been an important part of the work we do,” Doser said.
“We work closely with law enforcement in this community. Chief Diane Venenga has been part of the Johnson County Coalition against Domestic Violence. DVIP served 26 individuals from your community last year, and so far this year, 17. We work to meet victims in their community of origin.”
Doser said she often meets clients in North Liberty to alleviate transportation problems, or because it is a safer place for some victims of domestic violence.Langenberg said she sees assistance from the North Liberty community as well.
“We had 37 gifts from North Liberty private residents totaling $18,684. There are people in this community who support these programs, and people who use these programs,” she said. “I don’t want to see your support for North Liberty programs like the pantry and the programs that work out of schools lose your funding. I don’t want a gift to 1105 to come at their expense, but I know they can’t provide all the services provided at 1105.”
Council member Gerry Kuhl said his only hesitation was that the 1105 Project entities were located in southern Johnson County, and he would like to see services like the Free Lunch program expand into the smaller communities in the northern part of the county as well.
“Are you prepared to make a commitment to work with the United Way board to expand those types of services to northern Johnson County?” Kuhl asked. “That is one of the pitfalls. And we don’t have (public) transportation (to Iowa City),” he added.
Doser said with diminishing state funding and a push to regionalization, all nonprofit entities struggle to keep services operational, but there are ways organizations like DVIP assist residents from all areas.
“If I had a victim who was in danger and needed to leave their residence, and coming to the shelter was not an option, we also pay for rent for apartments in various places throughout our service area, to make sure a victim wouldn’t have to travel to receive support,” said Doser.
Kuhl also requested that Doser and Langenberg take a message back to NAMI-JC to convey the same concern.
“In reviewing the police reports, the chief tells us there is an increasing amount of time spent on civil situations. That speaks to the needs of the mental health of the people in this community and the need for (services) in this area,” Kuhl said.
Council member Brian Wayson agreed that he was conflicted about giving money to an organization outside of North Liberty, but he could see how entities at 1105 indirectly impact the well-being of North Liberty.
“One thing our police department is saying is we can take people to jail but it doesn’t solve the problems,” said Wayson. “You help solve the problems.”
Councilor Chris Hoffman not only supported the request, but wanted to give more over the course of the next five years
“I think there is much we don’t know and understand (about your services),” said Hoffman. “I don’t think $2,000 a year is going to be difficult for us to do and I feel it is an obligation we have as a growing community.”
Donahue resisted the request on several points. First, the city council has historically turned down requests for construction projects and instead designated its assistance for operational costs to directly provide services. Second, Donahue noted that during budget discussions, the council held back on donations to local organizations to keep the city’s reserve fund above 25 percent.
Hoffman said he didn’t understand Donahue’s logic, since the city has granted every local organization’s funding requests. The North Liberty Family Resource Center will receive $50,000 from the city, and came to the council with a last-minute ask of another $2,000 when they learned their funding from the Iowa City school district would be cut. Also, the city purchased a $15,000 freezer for the pantry last year, in addition to its $12,000 FY2014 cash contribution.
“Those non-profits within our community are also serving folks outside our community, and that is similar to what these (1105) folks are doing. Increasingly, the responsibility to support our own neighbors and friends and folks we interact with every day falls upon us,” Hoffman said. “As a policy maker and someone that is elected to take care of the funds and people of our community, it’s our obligation to make sure they are supported.”
City Administrator Ryan Heiar noted the city’s cash reserve at the end of fiscal year 2014 will be 27.7 percent, and the 2015 reserve is projected to be 25.5 percent; still within his recommended cushion.
Donahue was swayed, but countered with an amendment to give the North Liberty pantry another $2,000 for the next two fiscal years.
His amendment was readily accepted unanimously by the other four members of the council.
Since the council was to vote the same night on its 2015 budget, the 1105 donation and the additional pantry contribution will appear in a budget amendment to take the money from the general reserve fund.