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Hillsborough commissioners hear pleas to spare programs from budget cuts

TAMPA — Hillsborough County residents turned out in force Tuesday to urge commissioners to protect the most vulnerable in making budget cuts this year.

They pleaded with commissioners to spare a popular after-school program at county parks that families of modest means use as day care. And they asked that the county continue licensing private day care centers or risk endangering children.

They brought pictures of abused animals rescued by county Animal Services workers who are now threatened with losing their jobs. And a man whose daughter was murdered 11 years ago asked the board not to cut a team of county workers who help people like himself deal with tragedy.

"What are you guys thinking?" asked Robert Herman, who has three children who participate in the after-school program at Sadie Park in Brandon. "Something's wrong with y'all."

His beef was specific, but the sentiment could have come from many of the hundreds of people who filled two large rooms at County Center on Tuesday night. Nearly 90 spoke over three hours.

It was the first of four public hearings on County Administrator Pat Bean's budget plan for 2010, which proposes trimming more than $140 million in county spending from this year's $1.1 billion operating budget and eliminating more than 1,100 jobs.

Commissioners took no action, but signaled they are likely to discuss each of the topics raised Tuesday night when they meet for a workshop at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in County Center.

Parks are particularly hard hit in Bean's budget proposal, and the after-school program drew many of those who spoke. Some were children who carried signs asking, "Where will we go?"

"I really like the park," said Lynnaida Rodriguez, 12, who attends an after-school program in Town 'N Country. "I've been going there a really long time, I mean, since I was little."

Bean is looking to save $9 million by cutting the program, which she also proposed last year.

Several in-home day care providers seized on the vulnerability of children to make their case that the county should continue licensing such businesses. Bean followed commissioner guidance to cut areas that other governments also cover.

The state performs some licensing of child care facilities, but does not include nearly 700 in-home business or those affiliated with churches.

"The fat of Hillsborough County should not be quality child care," said Melanie McCune of Lutz.

Others predicted that unlicensed businesses will likely flourish without county oversight, and this would put children at risk.

The state Department of Children and Families "has enough on their plate," said Riverview day care provider Lisa Rodriguez. "They can't handle any more."

A number of residents arrived with photos of neglected animals. They argued that, just as Hillsborough County is making headway in fighting animal abuse, getting pet owners to spay and neuter their animals and reducing the need to euthanize them, Bean is proposing a big step back.

Her budget proposal cuts Animal Services staff by roughly a third over the next two years.

Perhaps the most emotional appeal came from Roy Brown, whose daughter was kidnapped and killed 11 years ago by crabber Willie Crane. He urged commissioners not to get rid of the county's victim assistance program, which helps family members deal with the aftermath of crimes such as that one.

"I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for victims' assistance," he said.

Hillsborough commissioners hear pleas to spare programs from budget cuts 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:53pm]
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