Split commission backs request



February 24, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iola commissioners agreed Tuesday to support an effort by SAFE BASE to apply for additional grant funding to continue the program beyond this school year.
For the better part of an hour-plus debate, it appeared that the city would not support the endeavor.
Commissioners ultimately voted 2-1, Mayor Bill Maness opposed, to file a letter of support for the SAFE BASE application seeking $880,000 from the Kansas Health Care Foundation. If successful, the grant would continue to fund after-school programs, dental screenings and other enrichment activities for the next three years.
Iola’s support also includes paying half the cost for a physical fitness coordinator — $17,700 a year or $53,100 over three years — if the grant is successful. The coordinator would also oversee several fitness activities sponsored by the Iola Recreation Department, director Luke Bycroft said.
Because of the Rec Department’s growth, overseeing weekly activities such as seniorcise or low-impact aerobics lies solely on the instructors who teach them, Bycroft said.
“It would allow us to offer more support,” Bycroft said, “and it would allow us to continue to grow.”
Maness and Commissioner Craig Abbott pointed to the pending deadline regarding the grant application, March 3, and wondered why the city wasn’t approached earlier. They approved a similar grant request last year under similar circumstances, Maness noted.
“You’re asking us to be partners, but it feels like we’re being pushed into a tight spot,” Maness said.
Abbott agreed, noting the Recreation Department was included in the grant application, yet Iola’s Recreation Advisory Committee had not been included in the planning.
“My problem with this is that you didn’t go through the right channels,” Abbott said. “If this had received the Advisory Committee’s blessing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’d already be done.”
SAFE BASE director Angela Henry accepted responsibility for the short notice, saying her preoccupation with other aspects of the grant, as well as the day-to-day operations of SAFE BASE, kept her from approaching the city earlier. She pointed out that without the city’s letter of support, SAFE BASE’s chances of attracting the grant funds were virtually nil.
“Having a partner on board greatly enhances our application,” Henry said. “Your part is a small part, but it’s substantial to us,” she noted.  

MANESS AND Abbott found another sticking point in the grant application, a reference to giving as many as 250 free daily passes to the Iola Municipal Pool to at-risk youngsters. SAFE BASE staff would decide who gets the pool passes.
Henry noted that roughly 70 percent of the students enrolled in SAFE BASE qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches and thus are considered “at risk.”
“What bothers me is that if this terminology had been around then, I’d have been considered an at-risk child,” Maness said. “I don’t question there’s a need, but I have a frustration about trying to discern what’s a true need.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Henry replied. “What we were looking at is trying to find a way to work with kids.”
Still, Maness was not convinced.
“I don’t know that we have anything left to sacrifice” as a city, the mayor said. “I don’t know where the dollars can come from.”
Regardless of whether Iola and SAFE BASE applied for the grant, funds from the Health Care Foundation will go to some community, Henry replied, “and I’d like to see it come here.”
Without funding, SAFE BASE programs will cease at the end of the school year, Henry said.
Bob Hawk, Henry’s father and a former city commissioner sitting in the audience, also sounded off on the issue.
“It looks to me like the city is not at risk of anything if this is not funded,” Hawk said. “The problem with the government providing for people is not something that’s going to be decided here and now. If the citizens of Iola can benefit by giving up $17,000 in order to get $283,000” then such an endeavor should be tried, he said.
Abbott held off support, asking Henry and  Bycroft to pull the language regarding the pool passes. When they agreed, Abbott made a motion to approve the letter of support. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Bill Shirley. Both men then voted for the measure.

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