City to Respond to Governor’s Audit by March 16th Deadline

Dawn Stiles, City's New Director of Health & Human Servies Office.

Dawn Stiles, City’s New Director of Health & Human Services Office.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,326)

Reluctantly and with chagrin, the City’s Public Safety, Health & Human Services Committee will comply with the changes required by Governor LePage (R) as a result of the audit performed by his administration in late January 2015 it was decided this evening.  The changes will become effective on May 1, 2015.

In late January a state field examiner reviewed Portland’s General Assistance (“GA”)  program. He determined in a lengthy report that Portland was in violation of the state’s requirements regarding the administration of its homeless shelters. Caught in a “financially untenable situation,” the city opted to change its operations in order to maximize the amount of revenue it will receive from the State.  This written response is due in Augusta on Monday, March 16th.  The State has no deadline of its own to respond  to the City on the proposed changes said the city’s corporate counsel. Danielle West-Chuta.  The additional paperwork involved could require additional staff to fulfill the requirements.

Only Mark Swann, Executive Director, of Preble Street Resource Center, testified  before the Committee.   Swann said that “untreated mental illness contributes significantly to those in shelters.”  The low-ball cost to house people in city shelters that the state says it will no longer is $820,000 according to Dawn Stiles, Director of the city’s Human Services Department.

The City has been functioning under these same rules for the administration of General Assistance to shelters for the past twenty (20) years and has always been found  to be in compliance by the State in the past.  However, this change in the interpretation of state rules was construed to be purely a political and strategic move by LePage.  Justin Costa, Committee member, said:  “This is part of a coordinated political effort to win support for the Governor’s budget………we have to play politics with the Governor.”

City corporate counsel Danielle West-Chuta reported that the lawsuit filed by the City against the State for its refusal to reimburse for individuals who are not US citizens is moving along quickly.  She believes that a decision could come in late spring.

Ed Suslovic, the garrulous chair of the Committee, took advantage of his spotlight to defend the city and challenge the Governor in several dramatic statements:  Suslovic said the City has a partnership with the State.  “It not responsible governance to put peoples‘ lives at risks.  We should be commended for stepping up to help people who need help.  We’ve been keeping people alive this winter.”  He invited the Governor to tell “us of our mismanagement.  There is no mismanagement here.  We’ve not over spent. There are multiple fronts on which Portland is being assaulted by the State……..”