Social service budgets get trim


Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

Money for social service agencies and for the Alachua County Health Department will be trimmed 10 percent under action taken by the County Commission Tuesday.

But the cuts will whittle just $200,000 from a predicted $8.6 million revenue shortfall for the coming 2009-10 budget.

The social service money will be cut from a $1.1 million pool the county has for grants to nonprofit agencies that include Al's Place Alzheimer's Day Center, Meals on Wheels, food banks, Three Rivers Legal Services and Elder Care.

Various arts, cultural and environmental organizations are also eligible for grants if their programs help under-served residents.

The grants are awarded on the recommendation of an advisory board that reviews all the applications.

Commissioners on Tuesday initially agreed to cut out the arts, environmental and economic development categories to focus instead on the basic needs of food, shelter and health care.

"These are all good things and the community benefits by them, but we are to the point now where we have to fund the essentials," Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said. "There are some not-so-essential things and if we just cut everything, we would have less to fund the essential services."

However, staff members who administer the program said it would be difficult to simply cut categories since some of the agencies that would be cut, such as a program that teaches people how to grow food, could provide an essential need.

Some commissioners favored not giving grants to nonprofits whose employees had gotten salary increases. County employees did not get a raise this year, and some jobs have been cut.

"I have some concerns with nonprofits that have given raises and where much of the money may go to administrative costs," Commissioner Paula DeLaney said.

Eventually commissioners voted to cut funding by 10 percent while keeping the same competitive process. The vote was 4-1, with Pinkoson dissenting.

The health department is largely funded by the state. However, the commission unanimously agreed to trim the $1 million the health department gets from the county by 10 percent.

About $200,000 will be saved if both cuts are approved during the summer budget process.

Commissioners recently learned that revenue to the general fund, primarily from tax money, will be down about $10.5 million due to tax cuts, loss of interest earnings and other factors. The general fund is currently about $135 million.

Commissioners pared the $10.5 million shortfall down to about $8.6 million by foregoing some planned building projects and through changes to the county insurance program.

A possible tax-rate increase was discussed briefly Tuesday, with commissioners again not ruling it out. The current rate is 7.5708. A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.

If that rate is kept, the county will lose about $4 million under the state-mandated taxation formula. It would lose about $2 million if the rate is raised to 7.7358 - the maximum allowed under the formula.

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