Monroe County nonprofits are down, but not out.
The Monroe County Commission on Wednesday declined a request from the Human Services Advisory Board (HSAB), to increase its funding by 5 percent. But the commission agreed to revisit the request at its regular meeting on May 24.
The HSAB makes recommendations to the County Commission on funding nonprofit social service organizations.
The decision came as a surprise to HSAB Chairman David Paul Horan, who expected the increase to go through the first time.
"They've kept hope alive, and this gives me a bit more time to lobby them, so we'll see what happens," Horan said. "But I do think that increasing the HSAB budget is the right thing to do. We're not talking about giving people raises here, we're talking about holding the line on providing services."
Last March, county commissioners approved HSAB's recommendation of $2.2 million, but then voted to remove the Guidance Care Center from the equation and make its funding a line item in the county's annual budget. So $609,177 was transferred directly to the center, which provides legally mandated mental health and substance abuse services. That left HSAB with $1.6 million to divvy among the county's nonprofits.
In May, the County Commission added $140,000 to that, for a grand total of $1.75 million for fiscal year 2013, an 8 percent increase in funding from the previous year, when the Guidance Care Center funds are factored out.
At Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Heather Carruthers alluded to the "cart before horse" nature of HSAB funding, whereby the board submits its request for funding before actually reviewing the nonprofits' applications for assistance.
Commissioner David Rice, noting county workers haven't had raises in four years, wondered aloud if some nonprofits would just take the extra 5 percent and distribute it themselves as raises for their own employees.
But Horan, a local attorney known for his support of conservative political candidates and causes, said he's been accused of being a "liberal" for his belief that the nonprofit groups actually represent good value to county taxpayers.
"I kind of see it as being like that oil filter commercial that says, 'Pay me now or pay me later,'" Horan said. "When I got on the board, I realized how incredibly important these organizations are. For one thing, they help to cut off the flow of criminals through our systems."
He does see room for improvement in the process, though.
"Right now there are four organizations that provide dental care for children," Horan said. "I would like to see us pool all the dental care under one umbrella. Right now there are four organizations trying to work out contracts with dentists to provide this care for kids."
Wesley House Family Services Executive Director Doug Blomberg was disappointed by the decision, but sympathetic to the county's economic challenges.
"I appreciate where the county is financially," said Blomberg. "I do wish they would consider increasing their support for our not-for-profit. I think we'll have to do some more push-back."
The Rev. Stephen Braddock, president and CEO of the Florida Outreach Coalition and chairman of the Monroe County Homeless Services Continuum-of-Care, was displeased with the lack of an increase, but grateful that the budget wasn't cut.
"I understand the reluctance at all levels to increase funding because of the uncertainty that's around us right now, but it's also an unfortunate decision, because many of the nonprofits are going to be hit hard by the sequester," Braddock said. "Many of these organizations are already facing 5-to-8 percent cuts in the coming fiscal year on money that has already been cut, or flat, for a decade. Particularly hard-hit will be substance abuse, homeless, and mental health services, and mental health.
"What's important is that, at a minimum, we retain level funding. Local dollars are critical, because they're usually matched by Florida and federal funds."
Horan was even more adamant.
"There's no way local government can pick up the deficit from the cuts in federal and state budgets," Horan said. "We're like the kid sticking his finger in the dike. There's no way we can hold back all the problems that are occasioned by the lack of funding. A lot of our programs will be detrimentally affected by the lack of state and federal funding."