HILLSBOROUGH AXES FUNDING FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CENTER by Roxanne Escobales

09/22/06

Hillsborough County ranks second in the state for domestic violence. The victims often have to visit multiple agencies when finding help, and so when an innovative Family Justice Center that houses over 20 agencies dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence opened on Monday many in the social services industry applauded. In only four days, it already had 40 clients walk through its doors. But less than a week after it opened, the center is looking at having to close its doors due to a lack of funding.

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Nikki Daniels is the executive director of the newly opened Family Justice Center of Hillsborough County, or FJC

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So on Wednesday the Family Justice Center of Hillsborough County went to the board of county commissioners for help. In a unanimous decision, the commissioners voted to ask Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee if he could find half a million dollars in his budget to be put towards the center. Sheriff Gee found the money due to a recent change in its insurance system.

But 24 hours later, when faced with angry residents at the public budget hearing, the board of county commissioners changed its mind about its generosity. Instead, a 4-to-3 vote decided the money would go towards lowering the tax rate. The sudden turnround shocked the FJC’s Daniels

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Commissioner Kathy Castor was in the minority in voting to give the half-million dollars to the FJC as intended.

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Commissioner Brian Blair voted against giving the money to the FJC. He said that he did the right thing and many more people are hurting financially with large tax bills. The commissioner said others should reserve judgement because they weren’t faced with a room of screaming people.

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A similar situation arose in Pinellas County a couple of weeks ago when domestic violence center CASA found some of its federal funding was pulled for its visitation center. These center provide a safe environment for supervised visits between a non-residential parent and children.

When CASA executive director Linda Osmundson heard of the Hillsborough County Commission’s decision she said:

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Osmundson had a different experience when she went to the Pinellas County Commission asking for help. She needed a little over 140-thousand dollars to fill the gap and keep the visitation centers open. The County Commission said it would partner with the Juvenile Welfare Board, with each paying half of the needed funds.

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Commission chair Ken Welch

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In a letter to the Hillsborough County Commission, Sheriff David Gee said he was pleased that the board endorsed funding for what he called an important initiative. He told WMNF that he was surprised the money he was asked to come up with on the spur of the moment was not used for what it was intended.

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As a pilot project, the Family Justice Center is the only one of its kind in Florida. It offers the services of 20 agencies under one roof, such as allowing victims to file restraining orders against abusive partners, economic support and a medical clinic. Unless it finds funding, it will have to close its doors in January. For more information, go to fjhc.org.

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