City Commission Short-Sighted on Non-Profit Funding?

Non-profitsSubmitted by Karen Thompson

Features Reporter

$35,000 in funding for local non-profit agencies received thumbs down from a majority of Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) at its budget workshop Aug. 12, 2013.  Mayor Sarah Pelican, Vice Mayor Charles Corbett and Commissioner Pat Gass  opposed the city funding.  Commissioners Arlene Filkoff and Ed Boner were overruled in their quest for continued funding.

The result is no city support for Barnabas Center, Council on Aging, Episcopal Children’s Services, Nassau Mental Health (Starting Point), and Micah’s Place.  Was this the best decision for the community?  Many think not.

A lone can of beef stew highlights the need for additional food, and the demands for much needed food for those in need.
A lone can of beef stew highlights the need for additional food. On average, twenty families a day come to Barnabas seeking food from its pantry.

Resident Mike Spino addressed the commissioners at the workshop.  “In our community we can see that our festivals, non-profit and public institutions make up the quilt of community interests that tie us all together. We are bound together by these organizations.”

According to Wanda Lanier, executive director of Barnabas Center, “City support helps us leverage other funding.  It demonstrates to other grantors that our organizations are important to the community and deserving of their support.  The deliberate lack of support for our organizations sends a very negative message to other funders that bring additional resources to help maintain and grow services.”

Barnabas is a multi-faceted organization that serves as a safety net for the community…providing assistance to citizens in crisis situations, food for the hungry, and medical and dental care for uninsured low income residents.  It serviced more than 5,000 citizens last year.

Barnabas depleted its donated supply peanut butter and had to purchase the product inorder to provide for the hungry
Barnabas depleted its donated supply of peanut butter and had to purchase the product to feed the hungry.

Lanier said that Barnabas is one of several organizations in Northeast Florida that recently was invited to apply for a grant award of $200,000 from a corporate foundation.  The application specifically asks about support received from various sources, including the city government.

“It is important for our elected officials to view their support of Barnabas and other non-profit organizations in our community as an investment,” Lanier said.  “We are much more than charities…we are businesses that support the local community and promote the quality of life that makes Fernandina Beach a special place to live.”

Janice Ancrum, executive director of Nassau Council on Aging found the decision by the FBCC very discouraging.  “Local government should be a primary partner in serving the needs of the community.  If your local government doesn’t support non-profits, it’s very difficult to convince foundations and other grant-making entities to provide funding.”

The Council on Aging was founded in 1974 by local citizens to maintain and enrich the lives of older persons.  It is a community resource offering adult day care, transportation, in-home services, senior centers and Meals on Wheels to enhance the quality of life for elders and persons with disabilities.  It provided assistance to 2,500 seniors last year.
Ancrum said she has had one-on-one meetings with each city commissioner to stress the importance of continued support from the city.

To demonstrate the impact of the city’s failure to provide local funds Ancrum said her organization has a 10 percent match for state and federal grants. The loss of $5,000 from the city actually means a loss of $50,000 or more than 7,000 meals to senior citizens.  Council on Aging has received grant support from the City of Fernandina Beach for more than 20 years.

Laureen Pagel, executive director of Starting Point (Nassau County Mental Health)  called the decision short-sighted.  “While I understand tight budgets, in the long run cutting critical services now, will cost more later.  With this kind of cost-shifting more people will end up in jails, emergency rooms or on the street.”

Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare provides a variety of programs to children, teens and adults coping with depression, addiction and other behavioral issues.  The organization treated 3,700 people last year.

Pagel explained that in the case of Starting Point, mental health services are a mandatory part of the public safety net.  In fact, 2012 Florida Statute 394.76 reads, “state funds for community alcohol and mental health services shall be matched by local matching funds.  Governing bodies shall be required to participate.”  Starting Point has received funding from the City Commission since its founding 20 years ago.

Mental health care contributes to the overall health and wellness of our community.  It makes Fernandina Beach a safer, healthier place where people want to live or visit, she added.”    Both Starting Point and Barnabus receive referrals from the Fernandina Beach Police Department on a regular basis.

It should be noted that Commissioners Ed Boner and Arlene Filcoff advocated for support for non-profits citing the multiplier effect.  “I don’t think people realize how much our contribution is multiplied when it is used toward grants,” said Boner at the workshop last week.

For a complete report on the workshop see Suanne Thamm’s story “City to non-profits: we can’t give you anything but love.”

Editor’s Note: The Fernandina Beach City Commission meets on Tuesday, August 20, at 6:00 p.m.  Individuals who wish to voice their concern have the opportunity to speak during the public hearing.

Karen ThompsonKaren Thompson moved to Fernandina Beach two years ago after working in Chicago as a senior public relations specialist for the Midwestern regional office of the  U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Prior to that, she was an editor,  columnist and writer  for a chain of Chicago newspapers ,  an account executive for several Chicago public relations agencies and proprietor of her own pr/marketing business.  She grew up and earned her journalism degree in Wisconsin.

August 20, 2013 9:44 p.m.