On Wednesday, Sarasota County Commissioners approved $4.8 million in health and human services grants, which is down from nearly $5.1 million last year.
Fewer organizations/programs were funded this year and many programs received considerable less funds than requested.
While the BCC is using reserves in this year’s budget, commissioners argued that these funds are money well spent because it will save the county money down the road.
“I understand [and] appreciate the fiscal conservatism,” said commissioner Joe Barbetta. However, he said these programs would save the county money by addressing problems that would cost the county money. Programs that keep teens out of jail, citizens out of rehab, children in school, etc.
“A dollar spent here saves us four or five down the road,” he said. “This is a small amount of money, $4 million, but it probably saves us $20 million down the road. This is also a quality of life issue.”
Commissioner Christine Robinson was the lone ‘no’ vote for the grants. She said she understands the good that organizations do, but she could not in good conscious approve the funds because of the county’s budget.
“I believe that we are taking a glide path in this county as to cutting our budget,” Robinson said. “I believe we need to start taking that glide path in health and human services. … In 2015 we may not see this money anymore.
“I think that [the programs] all are important,” she said. “[However], I think we need to begin to understand our financial situation. Private sector could pick up on some of this.”
Commissioners made only one change to the grants. After being recommended by the health and human services advisory board to receive no funds, county commissioners voted 3-2 to give $5,000 to Family Network of Disabilities for their Sarasota/Manatee respite program.
The respite program received $10,000 last year. Commissioners who voted to fund the program said the program was not given enough opportunity to present updated financials to the advisory board.
The commission said next year all programs/organizations, regardless of financial rank, needs to be afforded the opportunity to give an update to the health and human services advisory board.
Advisory board chair Carol Todd (also a board member of the Sarasota County School Board) said with a declining budget there is always going to be an organization that is not happy with the decision.
“All agencies were asked to describe the impact of the current economy on their program and the specific steps its taken to minimize the impact on the community,” she said.
“In 2015 we are going to have to make some really hard decisions, but commissioner Barbetta is right,” commissioner Carolyn Mason said. “If we don’t spend the money here, we would be spending a whole lot more.”
To view a full list of the programs that received grants, click on the PDF below the picture at the top right of the story.