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Anything that helps kids is worth funding

Since when is a program aimed at teaching children how to stay alive a boondoggle? When is using public dollars to help abused youngsters a waste?

The answer, of course, is never. If our tax dollars went nowhere else than toward our community's children, it would be money well spent.

So why are two county commissioners and some in the community balking at taking the steps necessary to get two innovative programs started here?

During a recent meeting, Commissioners Vicki Phillips and Joyce Valentino voted against leasing 15 acres next to Rock Crusher Elementary School for the eventual construction of Jessie's Place and Safety Town.

If built, Jessie's Place, named after Jessica Lunsford, would be a haven where abused and neglected children could be interviewed by law enforcement and counselors in an environment less threatening than a legal office or police station. Safety Town, a successful program in use in many communities, is a small-scale version of a town where children can be taught everything from swim safety to how to keep from being attacked by predators.

Both of these programs aim at helping children in realistic ways, and no one, including Phillips and Valentino, would oppose their missions.

The problem for the commissioners came from the funding details, or lack of same. By agreeing to the lease, was the county agreeing to take on the as-yet-unknown costs of building and operating these centers?

No. All that the vote dealt with was a lease of the land by the county from the School Board for $10 a year. The design costs would be covered by a $50,000 state grant that the Sheriff's Office already has secured, and sheriff's officials said corporate sponsors are standing by to pay for construction.

The only major question remaining, then, is who will pay to run the centers. No firm figures are available yet, but it is reasonable to expect that the costs will be substantial. Because it is not in anyone's budget at the moment, this is money that will have to be generated elsewhere.

Phillips and Valentino were right to raise these concerns, but their timing was off.

At the time of the vote, all that was on the table was whether to proceed with the idea at all. Granted, once such a project starts to gain speed, it is difficult to stop it, but the board was not committing itself to anything more than a $10 lease.

The project won approval in a 3-2 vote, and the details will now start to get hammered out. At some point soon, sheriff's representatives will return with the bottom-line information.

The details should include a combination of financial sources: state and/or federal grants, private sponsorships, civic groups and local public dollars. This money should come from all of the appropriate entities, including the School Board, the Sheriff's Office and the County Commission. Inverness and Crystal River should not be shy about getting involved, either.

Jessie's Place and Safety Town have the potential to be true community assets, and it is only fair that every arm of the community come together to embrace this idea.

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