Manatee commission examines $10M in social services spending

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 11, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission wrestled Tuesday with whether the $10 million it allocates through dozens of social service programs operated by nonprofits is spent efficiently.

Commissioners also said they want a more concise way to gauge success or failure of the programs financed.

The commissioners, meeting in a workshop session with the staff of the Community Services Department, reviewed programs costing nearly one-third of the $33.3 million budgeted for contracts and services administered by the department.

About $20 million is earmarked for health care-related expenses in 2014, which will be discussed later, officials said.

"Do we have any history as to, in the last 10 years ... what progress are we making on all this taxpayer money being spent, and is there a better way to do this to get better results?" asked Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

Dozens of programs the county supports help the homeless, mentally ill, senior and disabled citizens, domestic abuse victims, the jobless, children and at-risk teens.

The money comes from various funds, including general revenue and a Children's Services tax designated for enrichment programs for children. The childrens' services tax raises $7.5 million annually, officials said.

About $2.1 million was earmarked for Manatee Glens Corp., which operates a pri

vate behavioral health hospital and outpatient practice in Bradenton.

For 2014, the money will help elderly clients, rape victims, drug addicts and those who need inpatient and outpatient mental health care.

"Manatee County is a community that takes care of its own, and we are so grateful to the county commission for their support of adoptive children, returning veterans, sexually abused children, parents recovering from substance abuse and children struggling with serious emotional challenges," said Mary Ruiz, Manatee Glens president and chief executive officer.

Last year, county funding helped almost 4,000 people, she said.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino complained about a waiting list of more than 2,000 children for voluntary pre-kindergarten.

Others were concerned about homeless children with nowhere to go after school, high teen pregnancy rates, weak transitional services for released prisoners and how to shift medical care for the poor away from expensive hospital emergency rooms into cheaper walk-in clinics.

Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said many social problems can be traced to the dissolution of the traditional family unit.

"That's too big to bite off. We can't solve family problems quickly or easily, but we could do work-arounds," he said.

Even though a family is disjointed, led by a single parent or even grandparents, some "work-arounds" might help make up for the dysfunction, he said.

To Bustle, Commissioner Carol Whitmore replied: "I had loser parents," adding that people like them, from whom she has been estranged since she was a teenager, can't be changed.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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