Neighborhood Associations Win Back City Funding

Eugene has 23 neighborhood associations, and each one works with neighbors, businesses and local government to solve issues in its respective neighborhood. They also work together with the city of Eugene’s Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement (HRNI) to secure matching grants for community projects.

The funds for matching grants have been reduced by the city in recent years. This year, $35,000 in funding for Eugene neighborhood associations, almost a third of their total funding, was set for the city’s chopping block. But the associations, largely coordinated through the Neighborhood Leaders Council (NLC), rallied and convinced the Eugene Budget Committee to vote on May 12 to restore funding to the neighborhood associations as well as to the previously reduced funds for the matching grant program.

According to the spring 2015 mailer sent out by Fairmount Neighbors, this year’s funding “was only sufficient to fund one newsletter and two postcards” instead of the two newsletters the funding has covered in the past, and “no public funds were used in the publication of this newsletter.”

If the funding had not been restored, the Fairmount Neighbors anticipated having to fund future newsletters using paid advertising.

“One hundred percent of our funding is money for outreach,” Southeast Neighbors President Heather Sielicki says. The outreach money is spent by the neighborhood associations on mailers and their associated postage costs. Mailers are sent to each residence in each neighborhood to keep residents up to date on neighborhood and citywide developments.

The Fairmount Neighbors argued that they could not transition their print newsletter to online only, thereby saving money, because 90 percent of residents attending their meetings find out about them through the mailings, and some neighborhood residents don’t have internet in their homes.

The neighborhood associations handle outreach for the city, and they’re also tasked with finding printers, designing the letters and creating their own websites, Sielicki says.

Over the past six years, the city of Eugene has encountered a budget gap, triggering the attempt to reduce the neighborhood association budget, according to Eugene Community Relations Director Jan Bohman.

“The older generation isn’t hip to social media,” and it’s not reasonable to expect neighborhoods with older residents “to do everything they need to do online,“ says Whiteaker Community Council (WCC) President Sam Hahn.

While city funding provides money for outreach, the matching grants program helps neighborhood associations take on projects such as elementary school playgrounds, tree planting, traffic studies and more, according to the city of Eugene’s website.

Since the matching grants program was implemented in 2000, more than $570,000 in grants have been disbursed. The matching program started with $50,000 in annual funding but was put on hold in 2004 due to a downturn in the economy. Eventually the popular program was resurrected in 2007 with $30,000 in funding, HRNI program coordinator Cindy Clarke says.

Though the matching grants fund relatively small projects, they represent “the little things that help make neighborhoods nice places to live,” NLC co-chair Pete Knox of the Downtown Neighbors tells EW. “I think it’s a real win for neighborhoods that the budget committee recognized how useful the program actually is.”

The NLC is an unofficial committee consisting of representatives from each neighborhood association that meets monthly and serves to help with communication between the neighborhood associations, as well as a place where the city and others can be heard by all the neighborhoods, says River Road co-chair Jon Belcher, who was a member of the Funds Restoration Committee of the NLC that created a 14-page document to give to the budget committee listing all the positive things accomplished by the neighborhood associations.

The Eugene City Council must approve the Budget Committee recommendations before the funds are officially restored.