Pinellas County child services cutbacks could affect 9,700 kids, adults

For the second straight year, Pinellas County's Juvenile Welfare Board could roll back its support for a wide range of local children's programs.

The cutbacks wouldn't take effect until October, but the board might eliminate up to $6.4-million in spending on services to 9,700 children and adults.

The programs at risk include efforts to prevent drug abuse, to keep young first-time offenders from committing more crimes and to provide mental health services to homeless families.

The potential cuts result from this year's passage of Amendment 1, the statewide initiative to cut property taxes, and an expected drop in real estate assessments.

Both are expected to reduce property tax revenues for cities, counties and agencies such as the Juvenile Welfare Board, which gets virtually all of its budget for programs from property taxes.

At the direction of the Legislature last year, the board shaved $1.2-million from a budget of $50.8-million. Those cuts eliminated services to 900 children.

This time, the board's preliminary discussions include $3.4-million in potential cuts to 11 programs that serve families throughout Pinellas. Some of those programs rely solely on the funding from the Juvenile Welfare Board, so they would essentially disappear.

The board also is considering $1-million in cuts to programs in each of three categories: school-related services, child-care slots and youth development.

Some nonprofit leaders say the Juvenile Welfare Board cuts would seriously threaten the social safety net when combined with other cuts from cities, counties and the state.

"In October ... they are going to see a whole bunch of nonprofits close," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, based in St. Petersburg.

CASA would lose $424,000 for Peacemakers, which teaches violence prevention in schools, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing facilities.

The Juvenile Welfare Board's directors will begin considering the possible cuts today at a workshop at the agency's headquarters in Pinellas Park. The board will vote on a final budget in July.

The board is considering the worst-case scenario, said executive director Gay Lancaster. But the cuts would be less severe if more tax revenue than expected comes in.

In coming up with potential cuts, Juvenile Welfare Board staff are protecting programs closest to the board's three priorities: child maltreatment, school readiness and school success.

Still, potential cuts include:

• $200,000 for Operation PAR's Chemical Abuse Prevention Services, or CAPS, a school-based drug-prevention program.

"The cuts are coming from all over," Operation PAR president Nancy Hamilton said. "I'm concerned ... there will be little left to provide a network of support for our community's families."

• $350,000 for a program run by Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services — or PEMHS — that works to prevent recidivism among youths who have landed in the Juvenile Detention Center for the first time.

"That will eliminate the entire program," PEMHS executive director Tom Wedekind said. "It's a really specialized program that really I don't see any replication (of)."

• $139,000 for homeless outreach services offered by Directions for Mental Health. This program focuses on homeless families as opposed to individuals or people in transitional housing.

"We would significantly scale back in our ability to reach and connect with homeless families," said Tom Riggs, executive director of Directions.

Given the dwindling property tax revenues, Lancaster said, the Juvenile Welfare Board is working to improve the efficiency of the nonprofits it funds so they will need less money.

To save on administrative costs, for example, the board last year asked one of its agencies, the Pinellas County License Board for Children Centers and Family Day Care Centers, to merge with the county Health Department. It did, and the Juvenile Welfare Board eliminated a $500,000 grant it had previously made to the licensing board.

Also last year, the board combined the contracts of nine community centers it funds from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs into one. The centers are now under the umbrella of Pinellas County Management Services.

As one organization, the centers save on health and liability insurance, executive director Paul Lackey said.

It's a money-saving strategy that Lancaster said the Juvenile Welfare Board is exploring using this year for its nonprofits that provide youth development programs.

"It's sad to reduce funding, but it's an opportunity to re-evaluate the way services are provided," she said. "That's the blessing that comes with the curse."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

>>POTENTIAL CUTS

  • $200,000: Operation PAR’s school drug-prevention program Chemical Abuse Prevention Services.
  • $350,000: Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services — helps keep first-time offenders from returning to Juvenile Detention.
  • $139,000: Outreach services for homeless families instead of individuals.

Pinellas County child services cutbacks could affect 9,700 kids, adults 03/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 1:39pm]

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