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County could set rules for funding service projects

By Staff | Dec 16, 2008

In 2007, Southwest Florida Addiction Services was awarded capital funding from Lee County to help complete its new 40-bed detoxification center in Fort Myers.
Now, county commissioners are trying to decide if using capital improvement funds for human service projects on a regular basis is the right way to go.
Commissioners unanimously approved a set of guidelines for a proposed Human Service Capital Funding Project Program at their meeting Tuesday, also directing county staff to determine the financial impact of the program, to be presented at their budget workshop in January.
Debate among commissioners was due in part to what Commissioner Bob Janes called an “entitlement trap,” in which non-profit organizations might demand a lion’s share of capital and operating funds.
Currently a total of $4.4 million is pledged from the county operating fund to area non-profits, $1,975,000 of which goes directly to SWFAS.
Janes suggested putting a six-month cap on non-profits who have received what he called “bricks and mortar money” from the capital fund.
“We’re not trying to bail them out of problems they may be having,” Janes said.
Another concern was non-profits making a play for the capital funds when they had not yet explored all fund-raising possibilities.
“They will have to prove they have exhausted their fund-raising efforts,” Chairman Ray Judah said.
Human Services Deputy Director Anne Arnall echoed Judah’s statement, saying non-profits should not use capital funds for “seed money” and should have projects well into construction before approaching the county for aid.
Arnall added that she doubts the operating fund would be affected by the proposed capital fund program.
“In my opinion we’ll stay with operating and do some dabbling in capital,” she said.
While the board was not quite fully divided on the subject, Commissioner Brian Bigelow balked at his fellow commissioners’ hesitation to back the program. He cited the county’s quick support of the Red Sox, as well as providing $3 million to Sanibel, as examples of giving money to organizations or municipalities that do not need it.
“We can’t seem to accept for a little bit of money we can solve some serious problems in our community,” Bigelow said. “If we can find $50 million for the Sox, can’t we find $4 million for children’s lives?”