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City Talk: Nonprofit funding criteria reflect new strategic plan

As many of you remember, a 2016 decision by Savannah city leaders to cut funding to outside social service and arts agencies generated considerable controversy.

After a public outcry, City Manager Rob Hernandez and elected officials restored funding to the previous year’s level, but the application process has been changed in ways that should, in theory, ensure that funded programs align with the new strategic plan, which was generated with community input through the initiative Savannah Forward.

With regard to social services, the newly named Community Partnerships Program will, according to the request for proposals, purchase services for “a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $50,000 for Community Services contracts and up to $200,000 for Homeless Continuum of Care Services Management.”

The request for proposals, which was due on Aug. 31, says that eligible nonprofits should be able to demonstrate that their programs align with at least one of the following goals: neighborhood revitalization, poverty reduction and economic strength, or community intervention and prevention.

Given the nature of this column, I was especially struck by the details listed under neighborhood revitalization, which emphasize sustainability, recreation, access to improved housing and better “neighborhood connectivity through improved and expanded multi-modal mobility.”

After attending the Savannah Forward meeting at the Civic Center, I noted in a column that a number of speakers raised issues related to mobility, primarily the need for traffic calming and for better conditions for walkers.

When the funding decisions are announced later this year, I’ll be curious to see which proposals substantively addressed these issues of mobility and connectivity.

Certainly, there are nonprofits that bring folks from different neighborhoods together and there are others that encourage walking and bicycling, but longstanding issues with our local infrastructure hinder many of those efforts.

Every day, Cuyler-Brownville residents who want to walk across Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard face the choice of going a few blocks out of the way to make use of the nearest crosswalk or perilously crossing active traffic lanes and climbing over a narrow median.

Those of us who walk in Thomas Square routinely encounter obstacles, like the block of Drayton Street north of 42nd Street where the sidewalk simply vanishes.

Over the years, our tax dollars have funded significant improvements to many sidewalks and crosswalks around town, but many obvious problems remain.

And despite the growing number of Savannahians riding bikes, we haven’t seen any significant upgrades to our bicycling infrastructure in several years.

These problems can’t be addressed overnight, but in many places around town we have infrastructure that severely limits neighborhood connectivity and multi-modal mobility. There’s only so much that independent nonprofits can do in the face of those obstacles.

I’m sure you’ll be reading more soon about these issues, as well as other components of the city’s strategic plan and the new process for funding social services and arts agencies.

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A quick look at crime data

For the 28 day period ending on Aug. 19, only one homicide was committed in the total jurisdiction of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department. That relatively low number could just be a statistical fluke, but the year-to-date numbers reflect a significant decrease in several categories of violent crime compared to a year ago.

As of Aug. 19, there had been 24 homicides in the SCMPD’s jurisdiction, down from 35 homicides as of the same date in 2016. We had 150 street robberies as of Aug. 19, a sharp decline from the 235 during the same period last year.

Some of the other numbers aren’t as good as these, but the year-over-year comparisons, which you can view for yourself via the “Crime Trends” tab at http://scmpd.org, give reasons for optimism. Maybe the ongoing efforts of the SCMPD and elected officials are paying off.

Or maybe the 2017 slowdown in violent crime really just represents a regression to the mean.

For unclear reasons, we saw a spike in violent crime beginning in mid-2015, but now we are seeing the numbers fall closer to the trends before that spike.But we need to guard against complacency. We can’t just settle for getting ourselves back to the norm — the Savannah norm was still terrible.

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City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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