Manatee County and most of the other counties across Florida scored an important victory over unjust state policy recently. An appeals court upheld an administrative law judge’s decision last year that determined the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice improperly shifted some juvenile detention costs to counties.
Manatee County’s criminal justice policy coordinator, Peria Duncan, confirms that the DJJ will follow the court’s order and re-bill counties soon, though official notice has yet to arrive.
Still, that means fewer Manatee tax dollars will flow to the state, and the savings could be significant. Prior to the pending billing change, Manatee County expected to contribute $1.74 million to DJJ in the next fiscal year.
Those dollars come from the Children’s Services Dedicated Millage, approved by voters in 1990 on the promise that the money would enhance programs that serve neglected, abused, disadvantaged and at-risk youth.
But in 2004 the Legislature began shifting the cost of juvenile detention onto counties.
Instead of dipping into general revenue money, Manatee County commissioners raided the children’s services fund, breaking faith with the public.
In a paradox, Manatee’s children’s tax referendum proponents stated prevention, intervention and treatment programs would result in fewer teens entering the juvenile justice system, thus reducing detention costs.
In March, the Manatee Children’s Services Board and county commissioners set a goal of reducing the children’s services tax contribution to juvenile detention by $740,000 a year beginning in 2014. However, no concrete plan for accomplishing that exists yet.
County Commissioner Michael Gallen has been leading the charge to end this injustice for more than a year. He and county Administrator Ed Hunzeker resolved to meet that goal at the March meeting. That would be solid start at recapturing the intent of the children’s tax.
But pressures on the county budget are sure to mount as commissioners perform the heavy lifting on the 2013-2014 budget in the coming weeks. We encourage additional heavy lifting on the restoration of children’s services to the tax’s original intent.