Prussing urges Champaign to give more to social service agencies

URBANA — Even during lean budget years, the city of Urbana has continued making payments out of city coffers to local nonprofits, and now Mayor Laurel Prussing is asking her counterparts in Champaign to do their share.

Funding for social services has been a priority of the Urbana mayor and city council, Prussing said, but she feels it has gotten to the point that Urbana is "subsidizing" Champaign.

"It worked out that we were spending like six times as much per capita more than Champaign," Prussing said.

Last year, Urbana city officials gave $158,000 to groups like Family Service of Champaign County, the Frances Nelson Health Center, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Champaign County and Community Elements.

The year before that, city officials distributed $217,463 and, two years earlier, the total was $213,230, according to city budget reports.

In the current fiscal year, which is just more than halfway through, Urbana officials have written $102,000 in checks to local nonprofits.

Prussing said that money is important to attack the social and mental health needs of the city's residents, and it is an important part of what city government is supposed to do.

"The city exists for the people that live in the city," Prussing said. "If you are someone who needs social services, obviously that's a benefit. But everyone benefits from social services."

But not only Urbana residents benefit — most of the groups receiving Urbana money are set up to serve the entire county. Many of them are physically located in Champaign.

"That essentially means that we're subsidizing Champaign," Prussing said. "These are mutual problems."

She has publicly asked Champaign Mayor Don Gerard to throw some more money behind the community's nonprofits, and she said she plans to meet with Champaign city administrators about it, too.

"We're just trying to figure out how we can get the whole community to kind of work together on these things," Prussing said.

On Thursday, Gerard said Champaign is a "philanthropic community," and he personally supports community nonprofits. He is a regular at C-U at Home's "One Winter Night," for which participants spend a night on the streets to raise awareness about homelessness.

"We'd like to support our social services," Gerard said. "That's why I go to so many events. That's why I'm going to sleep outside in a cardboard box."

But Gerard was coy about whether the city of Champaign might be in a position to throw more funding behind nonprofits.

"She's made a case, and we'll talk about it," Gerard said. But he added that there are "different ways to look at the equations."

Champaign might not have as much money in a budget line for local nonprofits, Gerard said. But it does plan to spend $7.5 million, for example, to build affordable housing in the troubled Bristol Park neighborhood.

Gerard also pointed out that Prussing has focused on just one budget line — Champaign funds a tourism promotion agency that serves the entire county, for example, and Urbana does not.

"We're carrying the water on our Convention and Visitors Bureau, and she's seeing the benefits on her hotels," Gerard said.

In that instance, he said, Champaign is subsidizing Urbana.

"She's picking out one section, but it seems kind of (disingenuous) to pick out one section and pick on Champaign for that when we've been carrying the water on a lot of other stuff," Gerard said.

Local nonprofits lobby the Urbana City Council each year to make their case for why they should be included in the funding for social services. The mayor and city council members work together to select who receives funding and how much they get — and which groups are left out.

At $38,900, Family Service of Champaign County received the most funding of any single nonprofit during the city's last fiscal year.

Executive Director Sheryl Bautch said that money is important to leverage state and federal grants, which often require local matching funds. Grants from Urbana sometimes are the only way to draw those larger grants from higher sources.

"The city of Urbana funding, even though it may be a relatively small portion of the budget for the program, is really important," Bautch said.

The city dollars provide funding for programs like Meals on Wheels, transportation and home care for seniors.

And the demand is rising. The number of transportation requests, for example, has nearly quadrupled within the past few years, Bautch said.

"We know that, with the aging population, the increase in the need for those services is going to continue," Bautch said.

And a few more dollars never hurt.

"The services that we can provide are limited only by the resources we have to provide them," Bautch said.

Prussing pointed at growing demand for mental health services, too. Community Elements, formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, received $18,500 from Urbana during the last fiscal year.

"It is a pervasive problem, and I think we need as a society to do a better job," Prussing said.

Urbana contributions

 

The city of Urbana gave a total $158,000 during the last fiscal year to 14 community nonprofits. 

Family Service of Champaign County $38,900

Frances Nelson Health Center $27,600

Community Elements $18,500

Champaign County Health Care Consumers $15,400

Prairie Center Health Systems $11,500

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Champaign County $11,300

Urbana Connections Neighborhood Center $7,700

East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center $6,200

Urbana Park District Youth Scholarship $5,300

Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club $4,600

Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services $3,400

Greater Community AIDS Project $3,100

Peace Meal Program $2,600

University YMCA $1,900

Total $158,000

SOURCE: City of Urbana

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Joe American wrote on January 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

I've got a novel idea.  How about Prussing stick to running Urbana and let Champaign stick to governing itself.  We're separate for a reason.....for a good reason.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 12, 2013 at 3:01 am
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It's a campaign stunt. She faces a primary opponent. The left has largely abandoned her, and her challenger is campaigning on a fiscal prudence plank.

 

I'm surprised A Woman's Fund isn't on that list, especially because Shirley Stillinger has been such a Prussing advocate. And where's Crisis Nursery?

fflkommish wrote on January 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

Interesting, since this is the same Mayor that was so proud of letting Champaign carry the load at the visitors bureau.

rsp wrote on January 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

I've never heard or seen a single thing they have done. No ads, nothing. 

wayward wrote on January 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Yeah, they apparently didn't do much for Urbana.

rsp wrote on January 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

 

On Thursday, Gerard said Champaign is a "philanthropic community," and he personally supports community nonprofits. He is a regular at C-U at Home's "One Winter Night," for which participants spend a night on the streets to raise awareness about homelessness.

Is C-U at Home a non-profit now? I know when I looked it up recently they weren't, despite what it said on their website.  Social services affect the health of the whole community. A policy that only funds supports for business investments does not serve the community well. Suggesting that there is an equal trade here while residents go without needed access to care is shooting the messenger. Champaign has been cutting needed funding while spending big elsewhere. As long as they keep thinking people are expendable those people will keep doing what they need to get by. Just a little bit of help could make a big difference. Or Champaign could keep looking the other way. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

Gerard's cardboard box is going to be cold, and lonely this year.  At least, he only has to bring one lawnchair this year.  I hope he wears the huge, fur hat though.  "Fur Hats For the Homeless"

rsp wrote on January 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm

If they put out the strobe lights they may have geese for the homeless.

read the DI wrote on January 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

 

parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on January 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I like the strobe light suggestion; why don't we as the majority voting public require Prussing to socially serve us by installing the strobe lights around her private residence, around the city building, around the Jumers hotel, across the rail tracks where the Olympian drive project is to be built.  That will signal/remind the taxpayers of all the misspent millions she should use for social services other than herself.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Campaign stunt. Someone who does a poor job running one city should not tell another city (who just finished their second straight year in the black, by the way) how to run things. She doesn't get to vote with Champaign voters.