BRADENTON -- Tuesday's BOCC Work Session with the Children's Services Advisory Board (CSAB) was all about understanding what to expect over the next four years. The message seemed to be that with a lot of luck, some good fortune and a friendly wind, Children's Services will survive the challenges it faces. In spite of efforts from officials to wrench down their obligations to provide a safe and nourished environment for our most vulnerable segment of society, CSAB remains focused on success.
After Human Services Manager Mike Neuges finished explaining the CSAB funding process, those who attended the meeting listened to stories of destitute and struggling mothers with children; each an example of the variety of services offered, and all an example of how a dollar of prevention saves ten dollars plus in future costs.
Child advocate Jennifer Radebach, questioned the math and the commitment of the County Commission. Radebach didn't apologize, saying, "it's my job" and adding, "we want to turn up every stone in search of funding." Kameron Hodgens, also a child advocate, said "It's our duty to push a little bit," which was followed up by Lisa Morrison's question for approval, "Can we go elsewhere for funding?
One by one, CSAB members quoted statistics supporting their challenges: 34 percent of assault victims are under 18 years old. 30 percent of third graders can't read at grade level, and 2,034 county children have experienced a period of homelessness in the past year. All Manatee County grade levels performed below state averages and the district is ranked 47 of the 67 in the state.
Barbara Harvey, a CSAB and Manatee County School Board Member, told County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, "You promised me MCAT would be serving schools for 18 years and up. From Walmart to MTI (Manatee Technology Institute), Harvey said many were without transportation and had no way to get back and forth, adding "please help these children, they need jobs."
At last year's BOCC/CSAB workshop, Advisory Board members asked to try and streamline the review process, increase efficiency and weed out duplicating services. It appeared that is what they did, but members must have wondered, was the tuning and tweaking to get a better handle on a growing problem, or to help the county reduce its budget?
There were a lot of "I don't knows" and "… we're just finding out these numbers," bouncing around the room as the County Administrator, Commissioners and Advisory Board members tried to make sense of the pages of numbers and reports and how it was all going to shape the future.
Hunzeker said reducing the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) funding would free up revenue, as would reducing the stabilization fund, and suggested that if the one-half cent health care sales tax succeeded, a portion of that revenue might be able to go to the health care of children in the different programs, as long as it was spent on health care -- as the proposed ordinance dictates.
The most inspiring and enlightening conversation came during citizen comments, when "Just for Girls" CEO, Becky Canesse spoke about how she had been working with Manatee's Clerk of the Courts, Chip Shore. Canesse said the county's investment funds yield $9.3 million last year at a 1.2 percent return, and that there is reason to believe a higher yield remains a possibility.
The work session proved to be just that, and if anything was accomplished it was understanding that the caution flags are still up, and other funds will be necessary if the goals CSAB is reaching for are to become a reality.
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