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Charity's appeal to commission has little effect

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Whenever charitable organizations come to ask for money, Citrus County commissioners find themselves in a bind.

If commissioners are too generous, they worry that perhaps more groups will ask for money. If they refuse funding to a group, feelings are bound to be hurt.

On Wednesday, it was the Boys & Girls Club of Citrus County that walked away from a budget workshop with hurt feelings.

While commissioners didn't refuse to give the club the $20,000 it had asked for, none of them gave an indication that they were interested in funding the club.

The board's philosophy in recent years has been not to expand funding for charitable programs, while maintaining funding to programs that the county historically has supported.

With little change from last year, county budget officials have proposed a $77,000 contribution to the Key Training Center and a $30,000 contribution to the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association. They also have recommended that the county not fund the Boys & Girls Club.

Commissioners are expected to approve a budget after public hearings scheduled for September.

Trying to change commissioners' minds, Mike Gudis, the Boys & Girls Club's vice president for operations, said that without financial support, the club probably will have to close its doors.

"We really need your help," said Gudis, who is also a candidate for county commissioner. "The bottom line _ we're keeping kids out of jail."

Gudis said the club, which deals with hundreds of children and teenagers each year, saves taxpayer money by steering young people away from crime.

Commission Chairman Brad Thorpe said he had heard the state's Department of Juvenile Justice had a grant that the club could have applied for, but did not.

Gudis said the club has "looked high and low for grants, and we are still looking."

Commissioner Gary Bartell, echoing other commissioners, urged Gudis and the club to keep looking.

Also discussed at Wednesday's budget meeting were plans to buy a $34,000 mobile training vehicle for the county's fire services division. The vehicle, a trailer with the capability to simulate a fire with non-toxic smoke and other features, would be used to train children in the art of surviving a fire.

The commissioners also discussed hiring a full-time fire training coordinator who would be responsible for training the county's volunteer firefighters. The position would cost the county about $40,000 including benefits.

Budget hearings will continue today, beginning at 9 a.m. The Sheriff's Office budget will be discussed at 1:30 p.m.

The commissioners are required to set an upper limit on the millage rate for county property taxes by the end of the workshop. The proposed millage rate for fiscal year 1996-1997 is 8.057, slightly less than last year's rate. Millage is defined as the number of dollars in taxes for every $1,000 worth of assessed taxable value.