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Monroe County lawmakers block effort to restart beleaguered nonprofit program

A wood-frame door with a window that says in gold lettering Legislative Chambers
File photo
The door to the Legislative Chambers in the Monroe County Office Building

A troubled county initiative that had been using federal pandemic relief funds to assist neighborhood groups will remain stalled for the foreseeable future.

A Monroe County Legislature committee blocked legislation to hire a new administrator for the program in a split vote Tuesday – saying it lacked safeguards to protect the program going forward.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello had sought to hire Starbridge Services to take over administrative duties. But Democratic Legislators Rachel Barnhart and Mercedes Vazquez Simmons joined with Republicans to vote down the measure.

Starbridge is a nonprofit that provides an array of services to people who have disabilities and those who support them.

In a statement, county spokesperson Gary Walker said that the measure’s defeat leaves the project suspended and denies support and services for the community’s most vulnerable residents.

“The Bello Administration remains committed to the goals of this project and understands the need in this community is great,” Walker said. “Putting politics ahead of people is becoming all too common, and tonight was another example. This administration will continue to prioritize the legitimate and immediate needs of our citizens who are most in need."

The defeat is the latest blow to the Neighborhood Collaborative Project (NCP), a network of about a dozen neighborhood nonprofits working in areas ranging from food pantries to homeless outreach and workforce development.

The grant-funded effort has been erratic for months and extend beyond the Community Resource Collaborative that the Bello administration has highlighted.

The county had awarded the NCP $7.2 million in federal grant funding, and in May 2023, the county approved a contract with the nonprofit Community Resource Collaborative to administer that funding over four years.

Monroe County officials froze that funding in February, after learning that organizations in the NCP had stopped receiving monthly reimbursements from the Community Resource Collaborative. The county also revoked its contract with the CRC.

The county solicited proposals for a CRC replacement and selected Starbridge for the role. But that contract needed approval from the county Legislature.

As they explained their votes, the opposing legislators said the new contract didn’t address their concerns about oversight of the NCP going forward.

“I hope to work with this honorable body and the administration to find a way going forward to remove the bad actors, enhance the oversight controls, and get the good actors back on track and on to services that this community needs while protecting our taxpayers,” said Republican Minority Leader Steve Brew. “It does not and should not have to be a binary choice between the two.”

There is one scenario where the Starbridge legislation could be resurrected by the full Legislature. Legislators could vote to discharge it from the committee for a floor vote. That requires a simple majority of 15 yes votes. Motions like that are uncommon in the Legislature.

In this case, there might not be the votes to do so. If the full GOP caucus opposes the legislation, that would take 13 of the 29 votes off the table. Barnhart and Vazquez-Simmons would be another two votes against discharging it, unless they change their positions.

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.