Council OK’s service grants amidst community scrutiny

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, seniors at the Watsonville Senior Center enjoy festivities in 2015. Many supporters of the center voiced their displeasure at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian File

WATSONVILLE — Tuesday’s Watsonville City Council meeting started with a contentious pushback from the public, as the council presented the Social & Community Service Grants Subcommittee’s funding recommendations for the 2019-21 fiscal years.

Several community members associated with nonprofits who had their funding slashed — or zeroed in some cases — voiced their displeasure with how the subcommittee distributed the available $200,000, which come from the City’s general fund.

The loudest gripe came from those associated with the Senior Center, which received no funding a year after it was allotted $25,000.

City staff, however, said the Senior Center received that funding to help with upgrades at the aging East 5th Street location. Many of the services and organizations that operate out of the Senior Center, such as Meals on Wheels, Lift Line and Grey Bears, did receive funding and will remain at the center.

“The intent is to not close the Senior Center,” said Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker, who also suggested the City take a deeper look into how to streamline operations at the Senior Center in the near future.

Currently, according to city staff, the Senior Center is operated by Association of Watsonville Area Seniors, a nonprofit that rents the city-owned building for $1 a month.

“I’m happy to work with staff and work with our Senior Center partners to take a larger look at the center and what the future of services look like at the center to ensure that our seniors have a place to call home,” Huffaker said. 

The council voted 4-2 to accept the subcommittee’s recommendations.

In all, the City funded 32 of 59 applicants. It gave $64,000 for 11 programs serving youth, $107,500 to programs that benefit families and $28,500 to those helping seniors.

The City during its last cycle (2017-19) allocated a budget of $259,500 for Social and Community Service Grants, but fell $50,000 short of that number, as funds from the city’s marijuana tax passed by voters in 2016 did not meet expectations.

As a result, the City had to make tough cuts to several grants, including a $9,500 slash to La Manzana Community Resources, a program provided by Community Bridges that serves more than 2,200 families annually.

In an email to city staff and council members obtained by this newspaper, Community Bridges CEO Raymon Cancino called into question the decision to completely defund La Manzana and the Senior Center in favor of programs helping youth.

“To think that this amount cannot be allocated from any other line item is both surprising and disappointing,” he wrote.

Applicants were graded on six factors: (1) do they align with City Council’s strategic plan priorities, (2) does it meet a community need, (3) are the services provided by a similar program, (4) is there a financial need, (5) are they a Watsonville-based program and (6) is there a broad diversity among their board of directors.

“It’s never easy to give out money when there is more need than what we have available,” said Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez.


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