City awards $4.5 million to local groups

The Odessa City Council this week voted to allocate a total of $4,567,499 to more than two dozen organizations vying for funds to help them pay for operating costs, programs and events scheduled for 2021.

Some organizations, such as Discover Odessa, which received $982,450, won big in the annual money sweepstakes. Other groups, including Odessa Jackalopes Hockey, which requested $71,161, but was approved for $40,000, had to settle for less than hoped. Two organizations that requested funding received no money.

“It’s a difficult process,” Mayor Javier Joven told the groups, which took turns making their best pitch for funding during Tuesday’s three-hour council meeting. “Nobody ever walks away with everything they want.”

Joven noted that every year gets tougher because grants funds continue to shrink and the city took in less sales tax revenue in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Funding comes from various sources including the city’s general fund, hotel occupancy tax dollars and community development block grants.

Organizations must submit funding request applications in advance and explain what the requested funds will be used for. It also helps if they make a presentation at the council meeting before council votes.

Each council member reviews the requests and suggests what, if any funds should be granted. When there isn’t a consensus, which is usually the case, council members discuss and negotiate with each other until an agreement is reached.

This year’s process took about 2 hours, but council had little trouble reaching a consensus on each organization’s request.

Council first approved general fund requests totaling $276,950, the maximum budgeted for these requests this year.

Full funding requests were approved for Odessa Crime Stoppers, $60,000; Permiacare, $90,000; and Odessa Teen Court, $66,950. Young Professionals of Odessa received $20,000 of their requested $24,750; and Children’s Miracle Network, was granted $40,000, instead of the requested $50,000.

A representative for Children’s Miracle Network told council the organization wanted to purchase a new incubator bed that is used to care for prematurely born babies. That bed costs about $40,000.

Councilman Mark Matta praised the work that the Children’s Miracle Network does. He briefly shared a poignant story of how one of his children had been born 9 weeks prematurely and thanked the organization for helping to save his son’s life and providing emotional support for his family.

Council awarded a total of $949,876 in CDBG dollars, including full funding requests for Family Promise, $20,000; Meals on Wheels, $79,000; and Special Olympics, $16,650.

Hollingsworth Head Start received $70,000 of their $75,535 request. The city’s housing rehabilitation program was awarded $414,226 of their requested $458,395; the city’s building demolition program received $200,000 instead of $230,000; and city program administration was granted $150,000 instead of $180,000.

Council also approved a total of $275,124 to fund three city home fund requests. Full funding requests were approved for the city’s Homeowner Rehab Program, $206,343; Home Ownership Administration, $27,512, which pays for the salaries for one full-time employee and one part-time employee; and Community Housing Development Organization, $41,269.

A total of $3,065,548 HOT funds were also awarded. HOT fund dollars are generated from a sales tax imposed on anyone who stays overnight in a hotel located in the city. HOT funds are restricted dollars that can only be used for programs or events that promote tourism.

Most organization representatives began their presentations by flattering council and thanking them for previous funding.

Black Cultural Council of Odessa President Jo Ann Davenport Littleton tried a more confrontational approach. She specifically accused Mayor Javier Joven, and council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta of snubbing her organization’s Juneteenth event, which celebrates when word reached Texas that slavery had been abolished. The annual Odessa celebration is recognized as the largest of its kind in Texas.

Littleton publicly chastised the three elected officials, suggesting their snub might cost them votes when they run for re-election. Littleton ran unsuccessfully last year for Swanner’s at-large city council seat.

“(Juneteenth) is more than BBQ and watermelon,” Littleton said as she stared at Swanner, Matta and Joven. “It’s a celebration of our heritage.”

Swanner, Matta and Joven did not respond to Littleton’s remarks.

Joven also immediately cut Littleton’s presentation short at the 3 minute mark, although he allowed other group’s to speak beyond their allotted time.

On Thursday, Matta confirmed he was at the BCCO Juneteenth event held June 20 at Blackshear Auditorium; he even posted a video on his Facebook page.

“I even said ‘hi’ to (Littleton) at the event,” said Matta, who declined further comment.

Despite the confrontation during the council meeting, council unanimously approved the BCCO’s full funding request for $75,000.

Other organizations that received their full-requested funding amounts included, Commemorative Air Force (air show), $50,000, Downtown Odessa, $450,000; Odessa Arts, $572,000; Discover Odessa, $982,450; Odessa Links, Inc., $15,000; Odessa Parks: Fall Festival, $15,000; Odessa Parks: Starbright Village, $136,000; Permiacare – Family Resiliency Center, $7,500; Permian Basin Fair & Exposition, $150,000; Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo, $125,000; West Texas Track Club, $55,000; Ector County Coliseum Interlocal Agreement, $50,000 and Administrative costs/audit fees, $32,599.

Groups receiving partial funding, included Briar Patch Trade Days, which was awarded $5,000 instead of $10,000; Fiesta West Texas, $40,000, rather than $60,000; Jr. Jacks Youth Hockey, $10,000, instead of $20,000; Junior League of Odessa Inc., $15,000, rather than $20,000; Discover Odessa Sports Event Recruitment, $60,000, not $65,000; Odessa Jackalopes Hockey, $40,000, rather than $71,161; U.T. Permian Basin Athletics, $100,000, instead of $135,000; Tejano Super Show (car show), $40,000, instead of $92,575; and White-Pool House Friends, $40,000 rather than $62,500.

Council rejected funding from two organizations that submitted applications will little details about their projects and failed to send a representative to Tuesday’s council meeting to make a presentation. Funding requests for Texas Winter, $150,000 and Odessa USBC, $30,000, received no funds.