City of Lawrence developing new method for allocating social service funds

photo by: City of Lawrence

Lawrence city commissioners hear a presentation on social service funding during their meeting on Feb. 4, 2020.

The City of Lawrence is developing a new method for allocating money for social service agencies and programs.

At the Lawrence City Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said city staff was developing a matrix to help the commission evaluate requests for social service funding from the general fund.

Toomay said the matrix would give commissioners a more quantitative way to evaluate the requests than the previous method, which involved an advisory board that provided funding recommendations. Toomay said that board will now only provide recommendations for how to use the city’s special alcohol fund.

The new tool would evaluate outcomes for each agency and how each agency supported the commission’s strategic plan, Toomay said. She said it would be similar to the process the city uses to determine funding for capital projects.

“I think the thought is that there would be a matrix that we would use, similar to how we use a matrix when we look at our (Capital Improvement Program) projects,” Toomay said. “So you’d have a set of criteria and then you’d look at the applications against that set of criteria.”

The city’s 2020 budget provides $736,000 from the special alcohol fund and $1.54 million from the general fund toward social service agencies and programs, according to city staff’s presentation to the commission. That funding supports about 20 social service agencies and programs, including the Lawrence Community Shelter, the Boys & Girls Club, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Just Food.

Several leaders of local social service agencies attended the meeting and expressed support for the development of a new funding allocation method. Just Food Executive Director Elizabeth Keever told commissioners that the current system seems to benefit the programs that have been receiving city funding for a long time, as there didn’t seem to be a desire to cut longstanding funding. Keever said she looked forward to see how the matrix will work and how it will help the city broadly support agencies that are making a significant impact.

Most commissioners indicated they thought having a more quantitative method was a good idea. Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she appreciated that the city was looking at a system with metrics.

“Because I think it’s very important to review these applications apples to apples, so to speak, as to who is getting what, what’s the history of (the agency), and make decisions based on the metrics versus ‘this is how I feel about it,'” Larsen said.

However, Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei said he thought it would be difficult to create metrics to apply to the variety of different social services the city supports. Finkeldei asked how one would weigh an application for someone to take a class at the Lawrence Arts Center versus support for a food pantry, the Boys & Girls Club or an alcohol recovery program. He said the city would need to be careful when deciding how it will measure applications against one another.

“Trying to create metrics and outcomes in all of those and trying to fit everything in a nice little box, I think is a difficult thing to do,” Finkeldei said. “And although I certainly appreciate it, I think we have to be careful about how we do that.”

Finkeldei said he thought the commission’s upcoming strategic plan, which city staff said would help set the priorities that applications will be measured against, will be key. He added that it would important to get input from social service agencies as the commission develops the plan.

City Commission Meeting 02/04/20


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.