January 30. 2013 10:29PM

Nashua panel is criticized in report

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - Several months after city officials criticized Review and Comment commissioners for failing to provide necessary budget documentation, a new report is echoing those concerns, among other operational problems.

Last summer, the commission received significant attention after a handful of local human service agencies complained about the process being used to determine how city funds are distributed among agencies.

An ad hoc committee was formed to study the Review and Comment Commission procedures, and its final report was released earlier this month. Some of the concerns raised in the report include a lack of meeting minutes, no formal documentation on votes that were taken or who attended meetings, no comprehensive uniform training process for volunteers, a lack of administrative support, and insufficient recruitment of volunteers, among other findings.

The Review and Comment Commission is a volunteer board that reviews funding requests from local human service agencies and then votes on recommended funding levels during each budget cycle.

Last year, about 28 agencies requested nearly $780,000 in funds, but there was only $438,000 in city dollars and $82,000 in federal dollars available to distribute. It is up to the commission to study the applications and decide how to allocate the available funds.

"Feedback to agencies is lacking thorough and comprehensive information that would allow them to come back next year with a better chance of obtaining funds," says the report, which was submitted by ad hoc committee members Aldermen Lori Wilshire, Diane Sheehan, Mary Ann Melizi-Golja and commissioners Jean Gottesman and Kevin Moriarty.

Another problem, according to the report, is that the application used by the agencies has unclear information and inconsistent language.

In addition, volunteers were not permitted to vote on the overall funding plan but only a select portion of the requests assigned to teams under the guidance of a single commissioner, says the document.

"They are also only being given a small portion of the funding requests, and no one has the overall total picture to make informed decisions. This was established as a citizen's committee, and the ordinances say the volunteers vote for funding and present, as a whole, to the commissioners," notes the report. Last year, one of the agencies - the Nashua Children's Home - initially received a cut of 33 percent, while a different organization - the Tolles Street Mission - originally saw an increase from $7,100 to $25,000, or a jump of about 250 percent.

"These are tax dollars," Wilshire said at the time, saying someone needs to be held accountable on how and why they are being distributed or not being distributed to certain agencies.

Some of the agencies requesting funds include the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, Child Advocacy Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Nashua Senior Center, Nashua Pastoral Care, Harbor Homes and more.

Recommendations in the report include establishing and documenting procedures that allow for a more transparent process, including audio recordings of meetings, along with written minutes of all meetings. Other recommendations include the establishment of an annual calendar and timeline, documentation on how the chairperson is selected, establishing term limits for the chairman, increasing volunteer recruitment efforts, holding orientation sessions, mandating that all volunteers receive applications from every agencies and more. The report will be presented to the aldermanic Human Affairs Committee today for discussion. Meanwhile, two proposed ordinances that establish new procedures and amend the composition of the Review and Comment Commission have been tabled in committee.