Manatee County wants change in juvenile detention funding

eearl@bradenton.comApril 3, 2013 

MANATEE-- The Manatee Children's Services Board and County Commissioners want to stop using money set aside for children's services to pay to jail juveniles.

They want to cut the contribution from the children's services budget to the Department of Juvenile Justice by $740,000 a year beginning in 2014.

They just don't know how to do it.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker and County Commissioner Michael Gallen both said they are determined to make the cut.

"How we account for this, we don't know yet," Hunzeker said.

It's been Gallen's mission since he was elected to get the county to stop using money to jail children, when it was clearly earmarked to provide support services for them.

"It may concern children but the DJJ is a jail not a service," Gallen said Tuesday at the county's joint meeting with the Children's Services Advisory Board.

Child services tax money is intended for programs such as Just for Girls, youth development and mentoring, shelters and substance abuse prevention. Gallen believes the Children's Services funds should be used for "prevention rather than detention."

While board and county officials do not have a clear answer on how to cut spending on juvenile detention, they hope a sales tax referendum will free county money to pay for it.

But the county has a long way to go before it can even consider such a shift.

County Commissioners are set to vote on whether to put county referendum on a ballot this summer to create a half-cent sales tax to pay for indigent health care, which is now paid out of the county's general funds. While they haven't yet approved the referendum they are already considering the possibilities for the budget.

Currently some Children's Services money is used to pay for indigent health care for dental and mental health programs for children.

If the referendum passes, that money could pay for the $740,000 reduction to juvenile justice.

"We need to look at expenditures to make the decision whether the money is eligible to be transferred," Hunzeker said.

While money would still be coming from the services fund, it would be less than the health care cost and would leave money in the fund for other things.

Both boards also discussed whether they have been too conservative with public investments but Hunzeker was not convinced.

"We have a well-respected investment policy when it comes to public funds and I can make no suggestions to change that," Hunzeker said.

Child services officials expect a 2.5 percent increase in 2014 revenue as housing prices begin to rise.

Until revenue meets expenses, Hunzeker advised the children services board not to add any programs.

"Just because we will have an increase in revenue does not mean we are completely free to spend it," Hunzeker said.

By 2017, Gallen and the board want to end the Children's Services contribution to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which now totals $1.74 million.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow @ericabearl

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