DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners got good news and bad news Tuesday about the elderly nutrition program. The good news is the federal budget cuts won't take effect until next year. The bad news is that the shortfall, which was at first estimated at nearly $40,000, is actually about $83,000.
"We do have some time" to figure out ways to make up the deficit, said Suzanne Salichs, assistant county administrator for public services. "This is very important to the county, and we are working very diligently."
Ultimately commissioners decided to postpone a discussion on how to spare the program, which serves about 800 meals a day at congregate dining sites and at home to shut-ins.
A roomful of seniors who came to defend the program listened warily as county officials promised to find a way to maintain the program.
"We want to make sure our seniors are fed and fed properly," Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said.
The issue will be on the agenda for the Sept. 24 meeting in New Port Richey.
Division manager Gabriel Papadopoulos told commissioners last month that the program recently lost $40,000 in annual funding. That translates to a loss of about 14,060 meals yearly, or about 5 to 10 percent of the total meals provided. About 120 seniors are on a waiting list for the program.
Salichs said the county might be able to rely on its third-party fund, which is where donations to the program are kept. Occasionally someone will leave the program money in a will. Corporate donations also would be put there.
The cuts came as a surprise to commissioners and created a funding dilemma. Faced with pressure from frustrated taxpayers, commissioners are trying to find ways to trim an impending 7.8 percent increase in the aggregate millage rate next year.
Additionally, commissioners are set to vote on the budget later this month and had figured the spending plan had already been worked out.
"Although this is a temporary solution, the . . . staff will continue to exhaust every effort to explore and obtain alternative revenue resources from fiscal year 2013-14 onward," according to a memo from community services director Elizabeth Goodwin-Harris.
She said the staff would look to privatize the nutrition program for future years.
"This would require a private entity to operate the program with the same high quality, quantity and cost-effective service currently being provided by the county," she wrote.