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Pasco explores options in wake of cuts to meals program

Jim Caldwell, left, and Buster Evans prepare to serve guests taking part in Pasco County’s Elderly Nutrition program, which has experienced funding cuts that could affect how many people it can provide food for next year.

KERI WIGINTON | Times (2010)

Jim Caldwell, left, and Buster Evans prepare to serve guests taking part in Pasco County’s Elderly Nutrition program, which has experienced funding cuts that could affect how many people it can provide food for next year.

NEW PORT RICHEY — With a decision on Pasco's $1.16 billion budget expected today, officials are in a race for funding after the federal government cut $83,000 from the county's Elderly Nutrition Program.

The reduction came in larger than the $40,000 envisioned a few weeks ago, and now county officials are exploring whether to try to make up the difference or simply allow the cuts to take hold.

They don't have much time to mull the options put forward by staffers. The cuts take effect in January and commissioners need to decide the issue before voting on the budget today.

Among the alternatives are whether to use emergency reserve funds or turn to a combination of public and private dollars.

Suzanne Salichs, assistant county administrator for public services, said the county has received $55,860 in donations to assist the program and soon expects $8,000 from the charity group Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

Under one scenario, the county would funnel $40,000 in donations toward the program then use reserve funds to cover the balance, Salichs said. This would provide a temporary fix but give staffers time to identify a permanent solution, such as privatization.

Under another plan, officials would turn to privatization now.

The downside is the program could change drastically with the county ceding oversight to a private vendor. The program currently serves 800 meals a day at eight congregate dining sites and at home to shut-ins.

"We certainly want to be able to keep up the level of service," said Salichs, who's set to brief commissioners today.

Commissioners have only hours to pore over the options. They're set to vote on next year's county budget tonight. Though the cuts in meals wouldn't take effect until next year, officials want to budget for funding additions and deletions now.

"It's unfortunate in the timing," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said.

She said commissioners may opt for a stop-gap measure then a permanent solution, such as privatization, later after they've studied the proposal.

"Whatever we decide, we don't want any elderly person to go hungry," she said.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

If you go

Pasco residents can weigh in on the county's proposed 2013-14 budget, which includes a 7.8 percent increase in the overall property tax rate, at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey. If approved, the increase would mean the owner of a house valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $33 more in property taxes than last year. Commissioners are set to vote on the budget after the public hearing. The budget would go into effect Oct. 1.

Pasco explores options in wake of cuts to meals program 09/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 8:49pm]
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