County to up social services funding

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 10:27 p.m.
Money for nonprofit social service agencies will be boosted by the Alachua County Commission, but the way it is doled out will be streamlined to avoid duplication.
Local arts groups may also get more money, and changes may be made to the system in which tourist tax money is given to the arts.
Commissioners met Tuesday to begin figuring out how to make sure social service money is being well spent.
"Right now we are using a semi shotgun approach as to where the money goes. Perhaps we want to look at a certain specific issue or problem and focus our efforts toward that," Chairman Lee Pinkoson said.
Commissioners last year put $849,065 into the Community Agency Partnership program, which was distributed to 25 agencies in a competitive process for poverty reduction.
Commissioners believe some agencies are providing the same service - food banking, for instance. Commissioners said other agencies are creating programs simply to get money, though they would not name any specifically.
Money will be increased in the 2007 budget to 1 percent of general revenue, which is money from property taxes. That would boost it to more than $1 million.
Of that, 80 percent will go to agencies for assistance in food, housing and health. The rest will go to groups that provide other programs to low-income residents.
Those groups - such as the Action Network, Classroom Nature and the Girl Scouts - will compete for the 20 percent with agencies for the arts, environment, recreation and education.
Commissioners said that would allow more money to be spent on poverty reduction programs such the Dignity Project and Three Rivers Legal Services.
Community Agency Partnership advisory board member Lynda Johnson said the money is desperately needed. Johnson suggested more collaboration among the groups as a way to stretch the money available to directly help people.
"Why is it not possible, if these groups are doing the same thing, that they can't somehow come together and save some of these thousands of dollars that are going toward maintaining their own identity and put it toward serving the people we say we want to serve?" Johnson said.
Meanwhile, arts agencies also may be in line for more funding. Currently, they can apply for money from the county Tourist Development Council that is raised through a tax on customers of county lodging such as hotels.
But the groups must show they can draw tourists and must use the money for marketing. Smaller groups struggle to meet those qualifications.
That money is raised through the county tax but is administered by the city of Gainesville. County commissioners want to administer the program and modify the criteria to make it more accessible to more groups.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or

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