Host: Led by Commissioner Mike Moran, the all-Republican Sarasota County Commission yesterday reopened a previous, error-riddled decision and voted to restore funding for some social services, but still cut subsidies for others. But Moran suggested that a radical overhaul was needed to end “Sarasota Socialism”. While cross-examining agency representatives during public testimony, he also said Hurricane Ian victims in North Port are being rewarded for bad behavior with federal aid. Ramon Lopez has the details.
Ramon Lopez: Blowback to the controversial Sept. 12 decision regarding funding cuts for social services in Sarasota County came at the Sept. 26 meeting of the Sarasota County Commission
The Tuesday hearing opened with nearly two-dozen people protesting the previous funding reductions for 2024. The cuts sent shock waves through 20 or so snubbed social service groups and organizations in the county.
But the Sarasota County Commissioners partially reversed course on the issue, producing a huge sigh of relief from groups that saw their funding restored.
The commissioners revised decisions on some of the funding cuts made two weeks ago. They cited confusion over the county commission’s new system of assessing the funding requests passed on to the commission by the citizen-led Human Services Advisory Council and the Behavioral Health Advisory Council.
Commissioner Mike Moran had led the overhaul of the advisory councils, which he said were unduly influenced by ‘insiders’ and ‘powerbrokers’. He described himself as a steward of taxpayer money, and he said the overhaul was necessary to end “Sarasota socialism”. He added that recipients of federal disaster recovery aid after Hurricane Ian are undeserving because they didn’t have enough, or no, insurance coverage.
Mike Moran: And then, we just had a tranche from the federal government for $201.5 million, to literally – if you ask me – reward people who didn’t carry insurance they were supposed to. And the people who did it right, who saved their money, and did get the insurance – they get nothing. But if you didn’t do it right … we’re talking about asking this board literally to cover the expenses. If you ask me, literally rewarding bad behavior. I’m asking you – if you’re asking me, we’re literally brinking on, I nickname it Sarasota Socialism – when do you come to the edge where the taxpayer dollar stops?
But Commission Chairman Ron Cutsinger said at Tuesday’s meeting the funding cuts voted back on Sept. 12th were “rushed decisions” that needed to be revisited and reassessed.
Even Moran agreed that there was confusion over his new scoring system. He said it is ‘transformative’ and still needs ‘improvement’.
The county commission previously rejected recommendations from the two advisory councils to fund more than two-dozen social services programs. The Early Learning Coalition, or ELC, and the Boys & Girls Club each sought a half a million dollars. They will now get the cash. The Safe Children Coalition and the Child Protection Center also saw their funding restored.
The commissioners previously voted to bankroll Teen Court of Sarasota to the tune of $233,000. Moran’s wife works there as chief operating officer.
Republican State Rep. Fiona McFarland spoke for the ELC. She supports early learning and childcare funding. She says childcare is the second biggest household expense for families behind housing. McFarland says low income parents need childcare funding so they can afford to work.
Janet Kahn, ELC’s chief executive, told WSLR News said there’s no question why the requested childcare funding is necessary.
Janet Kahn: We are not dependent on it, and it’s not even to benefit the ELC. These are completely pass-through dollars that go to families, to be able to choose childcare in the community to allow them to work and have a better life. And many of these are county employees – first responders, hospital workers, and workers throughout the community in small businesses.
R.L.: Kahn said Sarasota County taxpayers need to extend a helping hand to groups like the ELC and the others who provide social services.
J.K.: The reality is, if you are in a community and you care about all the citizens in that community, then you want to make sure all of us, all in the community can work and have a good life. It’s true for all times that people have to help people who are less fortunate. If one takes a position that everyone is on their own – live or die – that’s not a compassionate stance, and certainly not a historical one. I would not want to live in a community where that’s the deciding vote.
R.L.: Julie Forester said she could not understand why the commissioners would move to cut funding for ongoing and deserving social service programs.
Julie Forester: The county commission was defunding programs that were targeted for the most vulnerable and, in my opinion, most deserving population in our community.
R.L.: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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