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Commission OKs human services funding project

By Staff | Feb 17, 2009

Despite opposition from staff, Lee County commissioners decided Tuesday to approve a Human Services Capitol Funding Project program for community non-profit organizations.
The move establishes a new service level and may reduce operating funding for community organizations. Through the county’s Partnering for Results program, agencies are currently budgeted at $4,091,000.
The move comes during difficult times for the county and non-profits. With the county facing a $160 million shortfall over the next fiscal year, county staffers have been scrambling to find cuts wherever possible, while private funding has been shrinking for non-profit groups.
Commissioner Bob Janes was hesitant to back the prospect of a new program given the county’s budgetary woes.
“I’m reluctant to take on a new core service program during a budget period,” he said. “We’re really hurting right now and I would hate to lead agencies on … I don’t see any money available.”
The program would effectively force non-profit programs to apply for aid through an as yet undetermined set of criteria.
Human Services Director Karen Hawes warned commissioners that the program might “open a whole can of worms” without having the criteria in place, and not knowing how much money would be available.
The Department of Human Services is facing just over a $2 million shortfall itself.
“We would be opening a door to say, ‘Come and get it,’ but we don’t know how much there is to get,” Hawes said.
Commissioner Ray Judah pushed the importance of the program for the county’s future. He likened it to a “business decision,” one that would help keep children out of the justice system by providing positive direction.
“It’s going to cost this community far greater if we do nothing … we have to break the cycle,” Judah said.
The vote passed 3-1, with Janes dissenting. Commissioner Tammy Hall was not in attendance because of a death in the family.
The county budget will come into focus more next week when commissioners discuss the next fiscal year Tuesday.