Citizens question proposed budget

Published 12:13 pm Friday, June 29, 2012

Several concerned citizens spoke before the Decatur County Board of Commissioners on Friday, expressing their concern that funding had been cut to several meaningful groups.

Earlier this month, the board held several workshops to discuss the upcoming fiscal year 2012-13 budget, which is scheduled to begin July 6 and continue through June 30, 2013. Friday was a public hearing for citizens to express their thoughts about the budget to the commissioners.

A resolution to adopt the budget will be considered Friday, July 6, at 10 a.m., in a called meeting.

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The $30.8 million budget, as currently proposed, includes approximately $480,000 in cuts to several line items under “health, welfare and recreation.” Among those cuts were a complete cut of $5,000 in funding to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) foster children assistance, and a complete cut of $6,000 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) of Southwest Georgia program.

Nikki Locke, from the Decatur County DFACS, said that the $5,000 the county provides helps meet needs for foster children — needs that are not covered through the state’s funding. Some of those needs include small monthly allowances, minimal birthday presents, haircuts, school field trip fees, school photograph fees, the cost of meals for parental or doctor visits, and small Christmas gifts.

“These children are the most vulnerable children in the county, and they have been victims of abuse and neglect, to the point that they have been removed from their homes to ensure their safety,” she said. “Our goal is to make foster care as normal as possible, for these children.

“The excitement and joy that we get to see on their faces after Christmas, when they get to tell us what they got, is something that you never forget.”

She said that foster children under DFACS’ care had been getting $20 each year for birthday presents, and a $2 monthly allowance, but the county’s funding cut would no longer allow those needs to be met.

“We currently have 26 children in foster care. That means the county [had been] spending less than $200 each year,” she said. “With the current budget, we have no funding to be able to ensure that they have a more normal life while in care.”

Dan Provence, chairman of the CASA Board of Directors, also spoke before the board Friday. He said CASA could survive this year’s funding cut, but asked the county to consider returning funding to CASA when the economic outlook improves.

“We’re going to make it in CASA without the $6,000,” he said. “And the reason we’re going to do it is because we’ve been good stewards of the money. We have some money set aside, and we’re going to dip into that, and we’re going to use that to continue to fund what we’ve been funding.

“I would ask that y’all consider, when revenues do increase, that you look to restore the items you have funded in the past.”

Provence also extended an invitation to help DFACS with their foster children program.

“The $5,000 that you’re short in helping the children out this year … CASA would like to help out and try to meet those needs,” he said. “I know there are other organizations and people in this community that will step up, and make up that difference. All we have to do is ask; people are always willing.

“I would suggest to people not to look to government for money and solutions, but look to our neighbors and look to our civic organizations for that, during times of dire circumstances.”

Several other citizens also spoke before the board, including District 5 candidate Terry Ellis and Ted Snell. Snell suggested that the board might have to consider a small property tax increase to meet its budget.

“I’m willing, and I know there are a lot of people in this county, who are willing to pay their fair share,” he said.

Commissioners thanked the citizens for expressing their concerns.

“I regret having to take money from anybody,” Commissioner Russell Smith said. “But we’re in a situation where the money just is not there this year.”

Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry noted that private citizens can make donations to DFACS and specifically ask for the money to be placed in the foster children fund. He also noted that the commissioners were not “bad people” for making the funding cuts.

“Any citizen can write a check to DFACS and indicate the funds are for foster children,” he said. “There are ways of raising funds other than simply asking for government contributions. The monies are not here, and it does no good for anyone to get excited about it. There have been some phone calls, there have been some emails … I hope and suspect that the tones of these emails and phone calls have been regretted.

“We are not bad people on this board. We’re trying to be good stewards for the citizens of the county. Yes, when times get better, we will do everything we can to come up with more money and help with some of these programs.”