The numbers used to help Pasco County's neediest residents continue to move in the wrong direction. In 1989, county government distributed $244,000 to outside agencies helping children, elderly and others among the county's approximately 281,000 residents. More than two decades later the county plans to set aside just $250,000 for charities serving a population that now totals 471,000 people.
That is an additional $6,000 for 190,000 people — reducing the per-capita spending to 53 cents. The continued slide is a dismal investment in the county's most vulnerable populations — seniors seeking hearing aids or trying to live independently at home, at-risk youths, and people who are medically needy, fleeing abusive relationship, jobless, hungry or developmentally disabled. Those are the clients of the 18 charities that share the county appropriation, using the allocations to leverage significantly larger grants from other sources.
For the second consecutive year, the charities were told to make do with less. A year ago, commissioners cut the appropriation from $381,000 to $300,000 resulting in lost funding to Scouts and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, among others. Last week, the commission agreed to cut the amount again to $250,000 (including proceeds from bus bench advertising) for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The cuts came amid a fourth consecutive year of constrained spending attributed to state-mandated spending limits, falling property values and additional exemptions for homeowners. Charity groups were relieved over the morsels granted on a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Ann Hildebrand, Michael Cox and Jack Mariano advocating for the non-profits.
This painful and now-annual exercise could be lessened if the commission demanded an expedited charitable-giving program that remains a work in (non) progress.
Eight months ago, Commissioner Ted Schrader, who opposes giving property tax dollars to the agencies, suggested an alternative. Schrader wants the county's utilities department to offer its customers the option of rounding up their monthly bill payments to the next highest dollar amount with the proceeds going to the outside charities.
It's an idea borrowed from the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's "Operation Round-up'' program in which about 25,000 of the cooperative's 200,000 customers choose to round up their power bill payments. The average contribution of 49 cents a month generates about $120,000 annually.
Similar results for Pasco County — one-eighth of the county's 93,000 utility customers donating 49 cents a month to charity — could bring $63,000 a year for the nonprofits. It is a smart way to supplement the county's shrinking allocation.
Instead of simply suggesting the private sector is the answer, commissioners — Schrader and Pat Mulieri, in particular — should insist the county make it easier for private citizens to help their needy neighbors.