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Funding withdrawn from Tigard's little-used neighborhood program

The city of Tigard plans to eliminate an underutilized neighborhood program that could have brought $130,000 into the hands of neighbors each year for a variety of community-building projects.

On Saturday, the city held an open house detailing changes to the city's Neighborhood Network program, including its decision to absorb funding for the program into the general fund.

Since 2008, the city's Neighborhood Networks program has offered $10,000 to each of Tigard's 13 neighborhoods.

Each neighborhood is offered a blog to maintain and is able to apply for money to fund community events such as barbecues, National Night Out events or neighborhood cleanups.

But in four years, none of the neighborhoods has applied for the money, and only four of the city's neighborhoods have formed steering committees - a funding requirement.

'There were a few people talking about it in neighborhoods that have active steering committees, but nobody went any farther than that,' said Joanne Bengston, who runs the program. 'There was no consensus on how to spend it or what to do.'

With little interest on the part of the neighborhoods, the city's citizen-led Neighborhood Involvement Committee decided the money would be better spent through next year's general fund.

Last month, Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen said the city was on the edge of a 'budget precipice' and called on changes to the way the state collects tax revenue.

'Anything that we absolutely do not need (is being pared down) for savings.' Bengston said. 'We're looking at this long term. While I know that community-building grants, and small works budgets are awesome and worthwhile, the reality is we don't want to bankrupt the city or contribute to poor fiscal future of the city for the short-term gain.'

Those aren't the only changes to the program in the works. Bengston said the city is moving away from its insistence of steering committees in the neighborhoods and will instead focus on the neighborhood blogs.

Each of the 13 neighborhoods currently operates a website, posting city news and information geared toward individual parts of town.

The active steering committees will be phased out, and the program will emphasize the blogs as a way for community members to address neighborhood problems and encourage interaction.

'In a way, this may be better for us to step back and reassess where we are (with the Neighborhood Networks program),' Bengston said. 'The blogs are popular, and it's time to retool how the neighborhood grant program can make it easier for them to use.'

Funding could return

In Neighborhood Area Two, which runs along Southwest Scholls Ferry Road in the Summer Lake and Englewood Park areas, Web Administrator John Pierce said he was fine with the changes, and that it was a wise move for the city given the financial hardships it may face.

'Was it a shock? No,' said Pierce, who has been running the neighborhood's website for two years. 'Not given the current economic climate and the circumstances governments are faced with.'

Pierce said he would like to see the funding come back, in time, but said there was little rush.

'No one likes to see money taken away, but you need to do the right thing at the right time,' he said.

Area Two's blog receives a few hundred visits a month, but Pierce said he would like to see even more development put into the blogs.

'I don't see the responsiveness that I'd like. People have the ability to make comments or post their own issues, but so far it is really underutilized,' he said.

The funding isn't necessarily gone for good, Bengston said. The grants will remain as unfunded parts of the program until the economy improves.

'We are keeping it as a project component, but we are not funding it this year or likely next year, either,' Bengston said.




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