By Dale White
Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
County Commissioner Ron Getman and an advisory board on public safety issues are exploring whether federal dollars may be available to cover rising expenses at the juvenile jail.
Since 2006, the state has required counties to cover the costs of detention centers run by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
The County Commission has grudgingly paid that state-mandated tab by dipping into a fund of property taxes that is supposed to go toward locally run programs designed to keep children out of trouble and out of jail.
In the past three years, $7.3 million that could have otherwise gone toward after-school care for latchkey children, mental health or substance abuse counseling, and a myriad of other services to help children have instead been spent on incarcerating them.
Getman is hopeful that he and a committee representing judges, prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement can come up with an alternative when they meet next week.
"County taxpayer dollars are evaporating," Getman said.
So, the best -- and perhaps only -- hope may be federal stimulus funds or other dollars for which the county or public safety agencies may be eligible.
"It all depends," Getman said. "There are always strings attached."
For the next fiscal year, the Department of Juvenile Justice is expected to hand the county a bill for $2.66 million, up from this year's $2.59 million.
The juvenile jail is the biggest single expense in the county children's services budget, consuming a 27 percent slice of the total. And it keeps getting bigger.
Yet, faced with $25 million in cuts it expects to make elsewhere in the budget that takes effect Oct. 1, the commission will be hard pressed to find another funding source if federal dollars cannot be found.
In 1990, voters countywide narrowly approved the property tax for children's services. The county promised to spend the proceeds on new programs for youth from low-income households or those at risk of neglect, delinquency, pregnancy, physical abuse or substance abuse.
Property owners pay 33 cents on every $1,000 in taxable value into the children's services fund.
Yet the amount of dollars available for more than 100 programs at schools, clinics, community centers and counseling agencies continues to shrink.
The juvenile jail is one reason. The county's declining property tax base is another.
This year, the county is spending $9.4 million in children's services taxes. Next year, according to one projection, the tax may bring in $9.1 million or less.
This story appeared in print on page BN1
Saturday, May 16, 2009
By Dale White
Posted by carie at 2:00 PM