Tallevast center locked residents out. Manatee officials say it might cost them

A shortage in available funding for community programs has county officials thinking about slashing the funding for one that recently came under fire for lack of access.

Residents of Tallevast, a historically black neighborhood east of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, previously came to the Board of County Commissioner to air their concerns with a number of questionable changes at the Centers for Success, formerly known as the Tallevast Community Center.

Program directors at the center installed security cameras, locked up the basketball courts . They also have refused to meet with residents to negotiate access to the site that was once a public space for the community.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners said that could be reason enough to redirect their funding to a more deserving community program. Of the $6.9 million requested, the county could only fund $6.6 million in local programs.

“We all know there’s strange things going on as far as ownership,” said Commissioner Betsy Benac.

“I have heard from many, many people there that they have been denied access to the facility,” Commissioner Misty Servia added.

The Children’s Services Advisory Board made a recommendation to continue funding the Centers for Success with $90,000 toward its before and after school care program for at-risk youth between the ages of 5 and 17. Given the residents’ grievances, Benac suggested designating that funding to one of the other programs that requested funding this year.

“Maybe this is a one-time thing and they’ll get their act together,” said Benac.

County Administrator Cheri Coryea, however, noted that the public’s gripes with being able to use the property did not factor into the advisory board’s decision to recommend funding for the children’s program.

“There haven’t been any issues found with that particular program. Any concern with the organization, I don’t believe we can really comment on right now,” Coryea explained. “We don’t have additional information right now, but it is being looked at.”

The Clerk of the Court and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office are investigating some of the residents’ claims, she noted.

In a June 14 protest, community members expressed frustration over the last few months at the changes made at what was formerly known as the Tallevast Community Center. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

As a result of Tuesday’s discussion, board members said that funding for the Tallevast center could be reallocated to one of the few community programs that requested funds, but were not recommended to receive any from the county.

Some of those groups came before the board to plead for funding that they say is instrumental in the lives of local youth.

“To give you an understanding of what I do, me and my peers — about 25 of us — are trained on different topics: bullying, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy prevention and so many other topics that I can’t list them all,” said Emma Bittar, the lead youth advocate for the Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County and a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School.

“We go into the community, Boys & Girls Clubs, homeless shelters, foster care centers and we educate our peers from 11 to 18 on these things. Those topics they largely don’t in school, and that’s why this is even more important because it’s the only way they get this valuable information,” she continued. “It would be embarrassing and incredibly disappointing, not to mention also heart-breaking, to now go back and say, ‘Sorry, our county no longer sees teen health education and peer mentoring as a priority.’”

After hearing from a number of representatives with the teen health group, which requested the same $90,000 that the Centers for Success was set to receive, Benac said she could support giving the money to them instead.

“I will advocate for funding for the Healthy Teen Coalition because it’s an incredibly successful program. I think we would have the money to do that if we don’t give it to the Tallevast Community Center,” Benac suggested.

An unlocked padlock hangs on the gate to the former Tallevast Community Center, now called the Center for Success. The doors to the building were locked at 3:30 May 29, though there was a car parked in the lot. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said he was also concerned with the developments at the Centers for Success, but urged caution before they reallocate funds.

Instead, Coryea pointed out that the numbers in the recommendation list aren’t final, and there’s another $135,000 to work with thanks to higher tax revenue than was expected when the list was created in May. Another resource to keep in mind is the county’s $525,000 in reserves for children’s services funding, said Commissioner Stephen Jonsson.

County staff will meet with the Children’s Services Advisory Board for more information and bring back a funding adjustment for commissioners to consider at a public meeting on Sept. 10.

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Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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