FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

FBCC holds firm in opposition to city funding despite pleas from non-profit social service providers for support

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

City Hall Chambers begin to fill for August 21 meeting.
City Hall Chambers begin to fill for August 21 meeting.

City Hall Chambers were packed by 6:00 p.m. on August 20, 2013, for the second regular August meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission.  The Fire Marshal had set the room’s capacity at 110, but those who could not find a seat, stood at the back of the room.  Those who tired of standing sat on the floor.

While not on the agenda, leaders of four of the major providers of assistance to the neediest in the local community took advantage of their three-minute opportunity to speak on items not on the agenda to renew their request for public support in the city’s FY 2013-14 budget.  Although each of these agencies—Barnabas Center, Starting Point, Micah’s Place and the Council on Aging—had submitted formal grant requests for consideration, no spokesperson had attended the August 12 FBCC Budget Workshop to make their case for city grant funding.  At that meeting the FBCC had denied all non-profit grant requests except for the Amelia Island Museum of History on a 3-2 split.  Only Commissioners Ed Boner and Arlene Filkoff expressed their backing for continuing support of social service agencies at that workshop.  The majority of the commissioners expressed opposition to more public giving since these agencies are already supported financially through tax dollars disbursed by Nassau County.  The majority also seemed to hold to a philosophy of private, rather than public, giving to support such activities.

Non-profitsAll four speakers expressed gratitude to the city for past support and reinforced the interconnectedness of their operations, as well as their partnership with local law enforcement.  Each speaker was loudly applauded by the overflow audience at the conclusion of her three-minute presentation.

Wanda Lanier, Executive Director, Barnabas Center
Wanda Lanier, Executive Director, Barnabas Center

Wanda Lanier, Executive Director of the Barnabas Center , spoke first.  She said that city support is very important to the Barnabas Center because it shows that the city thinks the agency is doing important work for its citizens.  “We serve over 5,000 people every year.  We provide food for the hungry, financial assistance for those about to be evicted and who need help in paying their utilities.  We pay for urgent medical and dental care for those who are uninsured and have no other place to turn. … We carry out our very important work by relying on donations from individuals, churches, foundations and other sources including the city.  City support is very important, not just in terms of dollars, but in being able to demonstrate to other funding sources that we are important to this community.  We leverage your dollars to gain other dollars.”  She went on to explain that the center expansion drive relies exclusively on private money, and that Barnabas is not asking the city or the county for money.  “I urge you,” she said, “to find, somewhere in that $16.8M budget, money to assist us in helping us show foundations that we are important to the community and worthy of their [city] support as well.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Pat Gass, Lanier responded that less than one percent of their $1.5M operating budget comes from public sources.  Every year Barnabas staff and volunteers must raise the remainder to keep the operation going.

Dr. Laureen Pagel, Chief Executive Officer, Starting Point
Dr. Laureen Pagel, Chief Executive Officer, Starting Point

Starting Point’s  Chief Executive Officer, Laureen Pagel, Ph.D., followed Lanier to the podium.  Pagel informed commissioners that her agency is the only free mental health provider in Nassau County.  Last year they served over 3700 clients, of whom 2300 were less than 18 years of age.  She said they have worked hard over the past few years to improve efficiency and have reduced no-show rates for appointments to one percent, well below the industry average of 50 percent.  Client satisfaction rate has risen to 96%.  She said, “We believe in personal responsibility and that everyone should share in the cost.”  City and county matches provide the basis for state funding.  Last year Starting Point provided more than $486K in uncompensated care to the community.  Due to budget cuts, this year they have had to cut 4.5 clinical positions and one administrative position.  Additional cuts in state revenue are on the horizon.  She said, “ Further cuts from the city will only compromise care to those who need it the most.”  She argued that the city does not save money by cutting support because those with mental health problems and addictions end up in emergency rooms, jail, the backseats of police cars and the criminal justice system.  She asked for half the difference of the statutorily required match set by the Department of Children and Families.  The match required is $255K, and the county provides $232K.  She asked the city for $10,000 for this purpose.

Commissioner Gass asked how much money is contributed by the cities of Callahan and Hilliard.  Pagel replied that each community gives $500.

Elaine Coats, Board Chair, Micah's Place
Elaine Coats, Board Chair, Micah’s Place

Elaine Coats, Chair of  Micah’s Place used her three minutes to reinforce the value and interconnectedness of all the agencies seeking support that evening.  She explained that Micah’s Place provides 24/7 shelter for those needing to escape abusive homes and relationships. She spoke to the grants that needed city and county endorsement.  Micah’s Place served 163 county clients and 63 women and children from Fernandina Beach in FY2011-12.

Commissioner Gass seemed to take issue with their claim that both Hilliard and Callahan provide financial support, even though their project manager said that they were actually invited to one of the Hilliard city meetings to accept the check.  In response to Commissioner Ed Boner’s question, Coats replied that they help battered spouses and families by providing safe shelter for sometimes up to 8 weeks as well as clothing and household goods donated to their Purple Dove thrift store to help them escape an abusive situation.

Janice Ancrum, Executive Director, Nassau County Council on Aging
Janice Ancrum, Executive Director, Nassau County Council on Aging

Janice Ancrum, Executive Director of the Council on Aging (COA) was the last to speak.  She reminded commissioners that for the past 40 years the city has supported this agency, which provides basic needs to senior citizens.  Last year, the city’s contribution of $5,000 resulted in $50,000 because of 10% match funding.  With a $10,000 contribution the city would guarantee $100,000 in funding, representing 7,000 meals for frail seniors.  Ancrum reinforced points made by previous speakers with respect to granting agencies requiring evidence of support from local government before funding major grants.  “If you’re not a stake holder,” she said, “then they are not going to be in it with us.”  She reported that city support means the difference between giving a frail senior citizen a bath three times a week or only once a week.  She also stressed that the COA is the only mode of public transportation in the county.  Last year they made 73,000 trips to help those with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.  They pay an 8% match on a $90K bus from the state.

She spoke about the assistance they provide to the Fernandina Beach Police Department  “I am asking you to be a primary stakeholder and an example in serving our most vulnerable,” she said.  “I am asking you to help us match dollars and change your minds about not supporting non-profits.  We need you.”

Commissioner Boner said that many look toward COA when trying to figure out what to do with problems with the elderly in their own families.  “What would happen to these people, if you weren’t here?”  he asked.  “We need to rethink the non-profits and come back to this again.”

Commissioner Pat Gass disagrees with Commissioner Arlene Filkoff  over earlier consideration of non-profit requests for support.
Commissioner Pat Gass disagrees with Commissioner Arlene Filkoff over earlier consideration of non-profit requests for support.

Commissioner Arlene Filkoff said that at the previous meeting commissioners were not as well informed regarding the value of the match and the assistance that these agencies give the police.  “I’d like to ask,” she said, “if it would be possible for us to reconsider this item.  We did have money left in the budget for this purpose.  It doesn’t really represent a tremendous impact on the taxpayer when you look at the impact these agencies have on the community.”

After a brief silence, Mayor Sarah Pelican asked if there was further discussion.  Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett replied, “Not at this time.”  Commissioner Gass said she took issue with Filkoff’s claim that all the factors may not have been considered at the previous workshop.  She said, “All these thoughts were prayerfully and thoughtfully considered.”  Pelican turned to the speakers and said, “The tiebreaker [herself] is saying to you, ‘thank you for coming.’”

The representatives of the non-profits left the meeting in silence, as many in the audience exchanged what seemed to be puzzled looks.  The Mayor quickly moved to the next order of business.

During Commissioner Remarks at the end of the 3+ hour-long meeting, Mayor Pelican returned to the topic of nonprofit giving.   She reported that the total taxable value of property in the city of Fernandina Beach is $1,325,805,922.  Twenty-one percent of Nassau County’s budget is based on this number.  She reported the county’s provision of funds to social service non-profits over the past three years and budgeted for the next year, followed by an extrapolation of how much of that money actually came from Fernandina Beach taxpayers as follows: 

Fiscal Year

County Grants to NPs

City’s share (21%)

2010-11

$617,337

$129,640

2011-12

$565,603

$118,776

2012-13

$625,103

$131,271

2013-14

$674,092

$141,559

 

Mayor Sarah Pelican
Mayor Sarah Pelican

“The citizens here do contribute,” she said.  “I have seen on more than one occasion how the community comes together.”  She related a recent example involving a family with child suffering from rett syndrome who received an outpouring of help from the community and city staff.  She thanked Interim Clerk Kim Briley for organizing donations and gifts for the family, and for making her, the Mayor, look good.  “They loved me, what can I say?” Pelican joked.

The meeting adjourned shortly thereafter.

August 21, 2013 5:10 p.m.

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