SAFETY HARBOR — A tough economy has forced many nonprofit groups to do more with less. That was the common theme Monday night as various agencies appealed to the Safety Harbor City Commission for funding in next fiscal year's budget.
"I can tell you story after story about what we do," said Janet Hooper, executive director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center. "It's been a tough time for a lot of families."
The family center, the only organization of its kind in Safety Harbor, provides clothing, a food pantry and financial assistance for low-income people. Hooper asked the city for $45,000.
"If we don't get that money, we are going to have to cut back and we are already stretched thin," she said.
The Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History, which requested $30,000, cut its budget by laying off its executive director. While it continues to receive high marks as a museum, grant funding is nonexistent, said Bobbie Wheeler, president of the museum's board. Wheeler said the museum now relies heavily on volunteers for its daily operations.
"We just don't have the capacity to get other funding," Wheeler said.
While impassioned pleas were made before the City Commission, some of the financial requests will go unfulfilled. City Manager Matthew Spoor said the city has budgeted $88,000 to support outside agencies in the next fiscal year, and it has received $102,000 in requests.
The commission will discuss the requests in more detail at a budget workshop at 9 a.m. Saturday at City Hall.
Nonprofit leaders discussed what they've done to reduce expenditures. The Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which requested $12,000, moved its newsletter online to save on postage, and it now relies more on social media to stay in contact with its members.
In addition, it cut staff to save on payroll, said chamber president Darlene Trieste.
Commissioner Nina Bandoni said organizations that help low-income people and those with nowhere else to turn are valuable resources for the city.
"It's tough, but some decisions are easier than others," Bandoni said.
Spa deal in question
Also Monday, the City Commission directed the city manager and city attorney to continue discussions with the owners of the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa on a land-usage agreement.
The city has been in negotiations to buy up to 15 acres of property from the resort as part of the resort's bankruptcy and financial reorganization.
The city has said it wants to use much of that land as a park.
But at Monday night's meeting, commissioners were concerned about the city's ability to develop up to 11/2 acres on the southern portion of the property. The resort's owner wants the entire area to remain parkland in an effort to prevent any competition with the spa.
Commissioners were also concerned with the extent of the restrictions the spa owners want on the land if the city buys it. They said they didn't want to hamper future city commissions from getting the best use out of the property.
The resort wants to build a wedding platform on the land at the edge of Old Tampa Bay and retain exclusive rights. Otherwise, it wants all the land to remain parkland.
"It doesn't make sense to spend taxpayers' dollars (on land with so many restrictions)," said Mayor Andy Steingold.
"Our attempt wasn't to put baseball fields out there. It's kind of putting us in a corner."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.