Worcester, Mass., City Councilor Attempts to Block Needle Exchange-Related Programs from Receiving Grant Funding
The Worcester, Mass., City Council on Tuesday blocked an attempt by District 2 Councilor Michael Perotto to limit the city's federal Community Development Block Grant money to not-for-profit agencies that "abide by previous council votes opposing a needle exchange program," the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Perotto acted in response to a $10,000 state grant awarded to the Henry Lee Willis Center to "survey local attitudes on needle exchange" and inform the public that needle exchange programs can curb the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users. Since the Willis Center receives block grant funding from the city, Perotto "questioned" whether the center should be abiding by the council's needle exchange policy. Perotto was opposed by "several" city councilors, both opponents and proponents of needle exchange, who noted that not-for-profit agencies that receive block grant city funding "are independent and are not bound to follow any position taken by the City Council." Needle exchange opponent Mayor Raymond Mariano "said the agencies have the right to do whatever they want," the Telegram & Gazette reports. He said, "I don't want to send a message to other agencies that if they do not tag along with us, we're going to pull the rug out from under them on their funding. I don't want to bully anyone into accepting my position. These agencies are not an arm of the city."
Ballot Question Proposed
In other needle exchange news, the Worcester City Council's Health Committee is considering a petition calling for the inclusion of a "nonbinding referendum question" concerning needle exchange on the Nov. 6 ballot. The question would ask voters if they are in favor of establishing a state-funded needle exchange program "with treatment on demand" in Worcester. The petition was filed by "longtime community activist" William Coleman III, who said that the referendum "would serve as a barometer of public opinion on needle exchange and related issues" (Kotsopoulos, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 1/17).