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Domestic violence caught in funding tiff

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

It’s not that the city’s Human Services Commission doesn’t think Federal Way’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Unit is unimportant.

It’s a matter of priorities, they said, and commission members want to see city officials demonstrate their commitment to the program by regularly funding it out of the city budget, rather than relying on annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

To that end, the commission denied the city attorney’s application for $38,930 in 2004 CDBG money to fund a part-time advocate and part-time investigator for domestic violence. The City Council approved its recommendation last Tuesday.

The city employs one full-time domestic violence prevention advocate, whose salary is paid out of the city general fund, and a part-time advocate who is paid with grant money. The city allocated $106,932 a year from its general fund to the city attorney’s domestic violence unit for the 2003-04 biennium.

When a domestic violence report is forwarded for prosecution, an advocate contacts the victim to explain what will happen during the process of prosecution and what services are available to the victim, city attorney Patricia Richardson said.

In 2002, advocates helped 600 victims of domestic violence. Through August of this year, the advocates helped 422 victims.

City Council members expressed concern about the impact that denial of grant funding might have on the unit, which has received CDBG funding since 1998. But they voted to plug the hole in 2004 with a one-time allocation of city funding and agreed to consider full funding for the program during budget planning for the next biennium.

Richardson said she doesn’t expect “any distinguishable difference” next year in the services the advocates provide.

Rick Agnew, vice chairman of the Human Services Commission, told the council Tuesday the commission’s recommendation was not a reflection on the domestic violence advocate program. Instead, it was a philosophical discussion that led commission members not to fund the domestic violence advocate program next year in the hope city officials would fill the need out of the city’s operating budget.

Last year, the commission allocated $20,000 (of the $32,000 requested) in 2003 CDBG funds for a part-time domestic violence advocate, down from the $25,742 allocated in 2002.

Commission member Dave Larson said the commission warned the city last year it wouldn’t be likely to fund the domestic violence advocacy unit this year.

The commission then had a smaller amount of money to distribute than in years past, he said, so former city attorney Bob Sterbank was called in to explain why city officials weren’t fully funding the domestic violence advocacy program when they spent money on other projects and studies commission members felt were less important.

Larson said the problem was prioritization of projects and programs in the city’s budget planning process.

“The city can miraculously come up with the money for a number of studies,” he said. “The city wasn’t making the domestic violence program a priority.”

The commission ended up funding $20,000 of the city’s $32,000 request last year, “but we also made it clear that this year they should find a place in the budget for the domestic violence program,” Larson said.

When the city came back with a CDBG application this year, the commission unanimously declined to approve it.

“Not only did they not look at the general fund budget, as far as I know, they asked for $6,000 more,” Larson said.

In addition, he said, city competition last year for limited 2003 CDBG funds left some agencies with less money than they would have had if the city funded the domestic violence program out of the general fund, and commissioners didn’t want to short-change those agencies this year.

“The city needs to make this a priority out of the general fund so it doesn’t compete with other worthwhile programs that might have CDBG funding as one of the only sources of funding,” he said. “It all goes back to priorities.”

The 2004 proposed use of CDBG funds includes $838,282 for capital projects, $119,425 for public services and $90,844 for planning and administration, for a total of just under $1.05 million. The commission funded nine capital projects and nine public service programs.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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