The county jail's in-house addiction treatment program will end Oct. 1 due to the county's proposed $140,000 cut in funding for the Guidance/Care Center, the nonprofit's heads told county commissioners this week.
Funding cuts have left no other choice for the nonprofit but to eliminate the jail program that serves about 100 men and women each year at an annual cost of about $192,000, the Care Center's directors said.
At least one commissioner, though, isn't losing any sleep over the jailhouse program announcement.
"Saying something and doing something are two different things," said Commissioner Sylvia Murphy in an interview Friday. "It comes with the territory. We listen to this all the time. Rarely they do it, because it's not that large an amount of money, for one thing."
For the fourth consecutive month, the Guidance/Care Center, a muscular nonprofit with a $7.5 million annual budget that offers mental health and addiction treatment services, became an issue for the commissioners.
"This is the last time I want to discuss this matter," said Commissioner Kim Wigington on Wednesday.
By the end of what at times became a tense back-and-forth over the Keyswide agency's funding and spending, the county clerk spoke up.
Too much confusion
"I can't follow it," Danny Kolhage said of the Care Center's reports Wednesday. "I don't know what they're talking about."
The agency needs to put together a schematic financial package for the commission, Kolhage said.
"Show us the whole $7 million universe of what you do and where you get the money from," he said.
The commissioners spent almost two hours going through the Care Center's numbers at the meeting in Marathon.
Each elected official at some point expressed frustration at the complex nature of the nonprofit's funding and allocation of grants.
At 11:50 p.m., the microphones on the dais and staff seats captured a female voice exhaling a single, exhausted curse under her breath.
Murphy said using the expletive is not her style, plus she was enjoying the "belt-tightening" and was happy that things were going her way.
Commissioners Heather Carruthers and Kim Wigington said on Friday that they didn't say it, either.
Yet the word is plainly audible on the recorded meeting, followed by Wigington moving along on the agenda.
"That was long and hard," Wigington said, having taken over as the chair for County Mayor David Rice, who steps down from voting on Guidance/Care Center issues because he founded the Guidance Clinic of the Middle Keys, and was its executive director for over 30 years before retiring in 2006.
Rice, a psychologist, still works as a consultant for the agency.
Earlier this year, the commission ruled that the Care Center should become a budget line item rather than one of the two dozen nonprofits that compete for funds via the Human Services Advisory Board (HSAB).
The nonprofit circle from Key West to Key Largo stewed and fussed over it, interpreting the funding mechanism change as a form of favoritism and citing Rice's connection.
So far, the line-item deal has meant fewer dollars for the Care Center.
Last year, the Care Center received $1.2 million from the county.
Instead of the $915,809 the Care Center had considered its local minimum funding, the commissioners on Wednesday approved $577,092 as the minimum "nondiscretionary" amount the county must kick in to the nonprofit.
"The cut of that magnitude is unprecedented," Rice said, adding that he has 40 years of experience in Monroe County government.
Murphy responded with a reference to the line-item change: "If this is the case, David, why didn't you just leave it alone to begin with?"
Rice smiled. "In hindsight, maybe I agree with you, Sylvia, but I'll never go there with you."
Rice said Friday that the change from HSAB competition to a line-item for the Care Center came after County Attorney Bob Shillinger learned of a state attorney general's opinion that gave government the job of funding local addiction treatment and mental health care.
"This is a weaning process," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Wednesday. "A one-year weaning process."
Rice disagreed, displeased by the cuts for the Care Center. Last year's decrease in county funding led to a popular treatment program, Keys to Recovery, shuttering in Monroe and moving up to Miami-Dade, where some beds are reserved for Keys locals.
"Last year, the program was cut $69,000," said Rice. "This year, it's cut $140,000. Something's got to go when you get a cut this big. This is a not-for-profit that doesn't sit around with hunks of money that aren't assigned."
One commissioner questioned whether the Care Center does more than rely on the county for its funding.
"The Guidance Clinic has a business plan entirely funded by government money," Carruthers said during the two-hour discussion. "Most other entities understand that government funding continues to diminish and have worked to find other ways to finance their programs. It makes perfect sense, if you believe in your work, to do all you can besides rely on a single source for your funding."
A.B. Maloy, the nonprofit's area director who resigned this month after 1¬½ years at the helm, replied, "We have 18 different funding sources. We are restricted in some ways."
The agency can't just rejigger its budget, Maloy said, since the many contracts leave little discretion to reallocate money.
Just the facts, ma'am
"I'm not here to talk about theory, I'm here to talk about facts," Maloy told the commission. "We are now looking at a loss of 11 full-time positions in direct services to adults and children: 1,428 current clients will no longer receive services."
Maloy and her boss -- until she left the nonprofit on Thursday -- Frank Rabbito stuck to the numbers during the Wednesday meeting and didn't respond to suggestions that the agency was overly reliant on the county, or the criticism in Murphy's final take on the issue.
"I do wish that when people speak they would be a little more grateful to the taxpayers in this county that provide this money," Murphy said. "I'm OK with the $577,792."
But Rice on Friday said Carruthers' fundraising push is illogical for an agency like the Care Center, whose clientele represents the most vulnerable and at times forgotten population in any community.
"What trips your heartstrings and makes you donate money?" Rice asked. "Children, homeless mothers with children. You don't do fundraising for a $7 million program that has no advocacy."
Advocates for the jailhouse treatment program include Monroe County's outgoing sheriff, who spoke in favor of additional county funding for the Care Center.
"The Guidance/Care Center is a hidden gem that provides services that in these times are absolutely essential," Sheriff Bob Peryam told commissioners Wednesday, saying that the jail couldn't afford to lose the drug treatment program.
Prescription and synthetic drugs -- such as the euphemistic "bath salts" being sold as incense that people smoke, snort or shoot up -- are wreaking havoc in the Keys, said the sheriff.
Peryam mentioned the recent face-eating incident in Miami that police there suspect was spurred on by the attacker's use of bath salts.
"This will be absolutely devastating to us," Peryam said of losing the jail treatment program. "It's pay me now or pay me later. We have to have some program within our correctional facility that offers inmates an opportunity to go from an inmate to a workmate."