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Flagstaff City Council

The Flagstaff City Council. Pictured from left to right, Jim McCarthy, Austin Aslan, Mayor Coral Evans, Charlie Odegaard, Jamie Whelan, Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni and Regina Salas.

Local service providers for those with developmental disabilities may be seeing some additional support after providers have struggled to stay afloat given Flagstaff’s raising of the minimum wage.

During its budget retreat last week, city council set aside $100,000 for one-time use by providers with another $50,000 possible if the city manager can find it in the budget.

Of the $100,000, the first half comes from this year’s general fund while the second half will come from money the city set aside for providers last year, but never used.

“It’s a never going to be enough,” Councilmember Charlie Odegaard said, but added he believes the $50,000 set aside last year and the $50,000 from this year's budget was a good start.

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni agreed it was a start, but wondered if the council might be able to find another $50,000 from this year’s budget.

“For me personally to sleep better tonight, I think it would have to be at least $100,000 [from this year’s budget],” Shimoni said.

To accomplish this, council directed City Manager Barbara Goodrich to take a second look at money originally devoted to cleaning up the old Mogollon Public Works Yard at 419 N. Mogollon St. If it is possible, Goodrich will then take $50,000 from the project for use by providers.

This would bring the total amount offered by the city to $150,000 to help address a $678,000 deficit local providers are facing this year. It is the city's hope its money will be matched by state and federal dollars for Flagstaff providers, which could fill the rest of the hole.

The state legislature is considering a budget item that would provide $172,924 in matching dollars, but the language in that item says the state will only provide $1 for every $2 spent by the city.

Based on the money council appears to be providing, the state will only provide an additional $75,000 at most for Flagstaff providers, bringing up the total amount to only $225,000.

A bill had originally proposed $508,600 going to Flagstaff providers, but that changed when legislatures felt it was unfair to make the state pay for the higher wages passed by Flagstaff voters.

Monica Attridge, CEO of the Hozhoni Foundation which provides care for about 105 individuals with disabilities, told council federal dollars may be able to make up the rest.

“At this point we're drowning so badly, we’ll take what we can get,” Attridge said. “If Flagstaff agrees to put up funds, I believe the legislature will include the substance of [the bill] and therefore we will be able to draw down that third that the state would give and then all the federal funding.”

However, there are other concerns. For example, it is not known exactly how the city might be able to get the money to the providers in a way that it can be matched.

Another issue may be that a number of the remaining providers in Flagstaff are for-profit businesses, and giving city money to them could violate the gift clause in the Arizona constitution. The clause states, in part, that public bodies like cities can’t give money to private businesses and corporations.

But if the city limits the money to only non-profit providers, that may prevent the state or federal government from matching the city’s money.

“There are so many unanswered questions,” Goodrich said.

All of this is to simply keep providers afloat for one more year. The minimum wage in Flagstaff is continuing to rise, and at a quicker rate than the base level of state funding. As a result, the city and local providers could find themselves in a very similar situation this time next year.

Councilmember Jamie Whelan suggested council may want to place a tax on the 2020 ballot in order to fund local providers in a longer term capacity.

But Mayor Coral Evans said she wasn't so sure about the idea, and worried that Flagstaff voters, after voting to raise the minimum wage, would not then vote to support providers who have been hurt by it.

“That kind of scares me,” Evans said. “Say our community says they don’t want a new tax or they don’t want a new fee to pay for this. What does that say to people in our community who are disabled? What does that say to their families? That’s a problem.”

Odegaard agreed with the mayor's assessment, adding he had no interest in putting something on the ballot because he was sure it would fail.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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