County commissioners add several organizations back to list Moran had prepared, recommending funding in 2025 fiscal year for health services

Advisory council leaders who evaluated applications reported difficulties in dealing with new financial disclosure process Moran had called for

Editor’s note: This article was updated in the afternoon of June 23 to correct information about funding for nine organizations to participate in the Licensed Mental Health Reimbursement Program for the 2025 fiscal year.

Jessica Tibbetts, chair of the Human Services Advisory Council, and Major Brian Meinberg, vice chair, appear before the board on June 5. News Leader image

It took about 90 minutes on June 5 for the Sarasota County commissioners to approve grants to human services and behavioral health services organizations for the 2025 fiscal year.

And, as he did last year, Chair Michael Moran presented his colleagues with a handout showing how he had modified the funding recommendations of two county advisory councils, whose members had evaluated the applications.

Commissioner Neil Rainford had his own spreadsheet, showing his version of the awards for behavioral health services in the new fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.

The board members’ discussions ended up with votes to provide funds to several nonprofits that Moran had eliminated on his lists.

During a presentation at the outset of the first of the two agenda items, Jessica Tibbetts, chair of the county’s Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC), and Major Brian Meinberg, the vice chair, who is commander of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Corrections Division, explained in detail the process that they and their fellow advisory council members had pursued to arrive at their recommendations.

After receiving the applications and other materials on Feb. 23, Tibbets said, the HSAC members conducted proposal evaluations and held mandatory meetings for representatives of organizations seeking the funding.

As specified in a resolution that the commissioners approved in June 2023, the priorities for the HSAC grants are programs that focus on food, shelter and safety.

Tibbets did note the difficulty of dealing with a new facet of the process, which Moran had stipulated last year: the use of annual 990 forms that nonprofit organizations file with the IRS, showing their revenue and expenditures.

Altogether, Tibbetts told the commissioners, the HSAC had received requests for $6,481,106 for the 2025 fiscal year, but only $5,919,145 was available for the programs.

Following their remarks, Chair Moran talked about what he characterized as the “historical perspective” of the process. In the past, he said, “No matter how well intended,” advisory council members ended up changing the scoring parameters they were supposed to be using to ensure that certain organizations received funding.

Commissioner Michael Moran. File image

Some nonprofits were excluded from consideration, Moran pointed out, as members of what was then just one advisory council would try to steer the county grants to nonprofits to which they had a connection.

That was why he began years ago to reorganize the process, he explained, to make it as objective as possible.

Moran has indicated on numerous occasions in recent years that people who had been involved with the advisory council had conveyed to him their concerns about what Moran described as improper interference.

Following the exchange with Tibbetts and Meinberg, Chris Johnson, chief operating officer of the United Way of South Sarasota County, who chairs the Behavioral Health Advisory Council (BHAC), which the commission established in 2023, offered remarks about his group’s scoring process. Meinberg remained at the podium for that presentation, as Meinberg also is vice chair of the BHAC.

Johnson, too, talked of his group’s concerns about what he characterized as inconsistencies in the 990 forms that the organizations had provided to the council.

A county staff memo in the June 5 agenda packet noted that the BHAC funding requests for the 2025 fiscal year totaled $11,292,415, involving 36 programs to be conducted by 23 agencies. However, the memo said, only $9,594,212 was available in the budget for FY 2025.

The HSAC grants

In a review of some of his decisions about the health services grants, Moran explained to his colleagues that he had removed Legal Aid of Manasota from the list because it has dedicated funding in accord with state law.

He also eliminated The Salvation Army because county administrative staff planned to provide money to that organization out of General Fund revenue.

The General Fund is the repository of all of the county’s property tax revenue, plus revenue from other sources, such as the gas tax. It is the account with the most flexibility to provide funding for purposes or entities not provided for through other annual budget means, county staff has explained.

Commissioner Mark Smith noted that Moran had left the United Way of South County off his final HSAC list. Smith reminded his colleagues that they had voted earlier this year — with Smith in the minority — to no longer provide funding to the United Way Suncoast.

Moran had called for that action because that United Way franchise’s staff handling its 211 helpline, which served Sarasota County residents, would refer callers to Planned Parenthood. Commissioner Neil Rainford had championed the discontinuation of support for the 211 service as Planned Parenthood provides abortions, even though it also offers a variety of other health care services to women.

During the June 4 discussion, Commissioner Joe Neunder, who lives in Nokomis, proposed allocating money to the United Way of South County, as well as the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice. (He has made it clear in the past that he is Roman Catholic.)

The United Way request was for $160,000, for the SHIELD program to help “families and those living below the Federal Poverty Line who are being evicted from their homes. The United Way works with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office on that initiative,” the funding summary noted.

This is the summary of the funding request in the June 5 agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The HSAC members ranked that application 46 out of 51, recommending that the United Way of South County should not receive funding for the 2025 fiscal year. The HSAC document noted that the program would be new among county grant-assisted organizations in the 2025 fiscal year, if the money were approved.

Catholic Charities requested $192,000 for emergency shelter and support services for families with children that are homeless in South County. It provides short-term housing, its program summary said.

The HSAC had not recommended funding for Catholic Charities, ranking it 50 out of the 51 applications. Its client count was low, the HSAC members agreed.

Nonetheless, Rainford concurred with Neunder’s Catholic Charities proposal. Then he said he believed the board should provide the funding sought, as well, by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul of South Pinellas.

The latter organization was seeking $120,000 for an emergency housing program in Sarasota County “for homeless individuals who would otherwise be living outside in the elements,” the summary said.

The HSAC members had ranked the application 47 out of 51, writing that the funds represented 100% of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul program’s budget. The application summary included in the agenda packet also showed that the Society was “Not on Track” to meet half of its performance outcomes, with the other three marked “Pending.”

This is the summary of the funding request in the June 5 agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger agreed with providing funds to the United Way of South County. “They are a completely separate organization” from the United Way of the Suncoast, he pointed out. “They’ve been doing an excellent job in the community.”

“I feel for them in a way on this,” Moran responded. When he had inquired about whether that organization had to send money each year to the home office of United Way, he continued, “I didn’t like the answer to my question, which was ‘Yes.’ ”

Yet, Rainford, too, supported the request for the 2025 fiscal year. “I believe they do tremendous work.”

The commissioners ended up asking Johnson, the COO of the United Way of South County, to provide them more information.

Johnson explained that the United Way organizations are structured as franchises of the international United Way entity; in that capacity, they pay an administrative fee to the lead organization.

Johnson also told the commissioners that the United Way of South County does not refer any of its clients for abortion services.

As a result of Johnson’s remarks about the administrative fees, Cutsinger said he could not vote for county funding. “In good conscience, I will not support sending anything to the parent company.”

Rainford suggested that another way might be found to pay for the SHIELD program in South County.

Commissioner Smith also expressed support for the program, adding that he chose to focus on that and not the administrative payments.

Perhaps Sheriff Kurt Hoffman could come up with a creative option, Rainford said, to keep the SHIELD program functioning.

Commissioner Neunder expressed his support for that idea.

Rainford further proposed that the board members go ahead and provide the $48,595 that Family Promise of South Sarasota County had sought for its Bridge Housing Program.

The summary sheet for that application said that the program “provides shelter, meals and wrap around services for homeless families with minor children in Nokomis, Venice, Englewood, Osprey and North Port. The goal of the program is to determine the factors which precipitated the family homelessness, and to help families move or return to self-sufficiency, via assistance with procurement of services such as employment, education/vocational training, child care, financial management training, legal services, medical care and ultimately, independent housing. Families are sheltered in participating congregations with each ‘host’ congregation providing meals for one week at time, up to four times per year.”

However, the HSAC had not recommended the funding, noting that Family Promise had met only four out of six of its performance measures for the current fiscal year.

Nevertheless, on unanimous votes, the commissioners agreed to allocate the requested money to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul of South Pinellas, Catholic Charities and Family Promise.

The behavioral health grants

During their discussion of the behavioral health services grants, Moran explained that, on his spreadsheet, he provided funding up to $125,000 for each of nine organizations to implement the Licensed Mental Health Reimbursement Program in the 2025 fiscal year, based on the performance of a pilot program that he and his colleagues launched this year.

The trial initiative has made it possible for licensed mental health care professionals to go into homes of families with at-risk youth in an effort to address problems at an early stage. Kristie Skoglund, CEO of the Florida Center for Early Childhood, reported numerous statistics during the Open to the Public comment period at the start of the June 5 meeting to underscore how well the program is working.

Only four nonprofits participated in the pilot program: Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota; the Florida Center for Early Childhood in Sarasota; Teen Court; and JFCS of the Suncoast. Moran added NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties; Centerplace Health; Academy at Glengary; All Star Children’s Foundation; and Insight Counseling Services.

If his colleagues agreed to his recommendation, Moran said, the funding requests those nine organizations had submitted to the BHAC would be zeroed out.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commission Cutsinger did question the fact that the BHAC had not vetted the implementation of the program, or the fact that the nine organizations would be considered for the grants. Moran indicated that the commissioners had the discretion to do as they wished in this case.

“I’ll support it,” Cutsinger responded, though he suggested the potential that other nonprofits could participate in the Licensed Mental Health Reimbursement Program and that the board receive reports from the nine designated for it, so the commissioners could determine how the program was working.

Moran agreed with Cutsinger.

The proposal ended up winning full commission support, with the funds for the nine nonprofits to come out of the proceeds of a national settlement involving companies that provided opioids for patients, which resulted in widespread addiction problems. (See the related article in this issue.)

“This is super helpful,” Rainford said of Moran’s spreadsheet, noting that the one he had created for the grant requests “was very, very similar” to it.

Then Rainford told his colleagues that he would like to see the request of Operation Warrior Resolution included on the final list. “It was new last year,” he said of the nonprofit. “They’ve done a tremendous job.”

Its funding summary said, “The Operation Warrior Resolution (OWR) Tactical Healing program serves military service members of all branches, including all eras, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. They are usually a service-connected, disabled veteran with some level of PTSD, anxiety, depression and/or suicidality. This program also serves these [veterans’] immediate family members, spouse, and children, with the same therapy service. This is a 3 month program, is built to eliminate suicidality and equip veterans with the tools needed for long-term resilience. The program starts with a 5-day retreat for 10 veterans followed by three months of post-retreat coaching and therapeutic services for them and their spouse and children.”

The nonprofit was requesting $93,000; the BHAC recommended it for funding.

Rainford also proposed that money go to the Sarasota Medical Pregnancy Center for its Behavioral Health and Social Services Navigation program; the funding sought was $245,000. “They do tremendous work,” he said.

This is the summary of the funding request in the June 5 agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The BHAC had ranked it last among the 36 organizations requesting financial support, noting because it was a new program and the money would represent “86% of program’s overall budget without explanation from the agency when requested.”

Commissioner Cutsinger told his colleagues, “I could not agree more” about Rainford’s recommendation for funding the Operation Warrior Resolution program, and he called the Sarasota Medical Pregnancy Center “an outstandingorganization.”

Both of those nonprofits were approved for their requests.

Further, Rainford suggested that the county fund Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, which was seeking $180,000 for a mentoring program for children and youth ages 5 to 21; and Harvest Tabernacle of Sarasota, which had requested $190,000 for its Freedom Recovery Program, whose mission “ is to safely divert individuals with substance use disorders and criminal involvement from jail or pre-arrest to the recovery program and safely be reintegrated back into the community,” as its summary explained.

The BHAC pointed out that the Harvest Tabernacle program is new, but it was ranked 4 out of 36 because it “had an excellent financial score.”

The BHAC ranked the Big Brothers Big Sisters request 14 out of 36, noting it has “a large client count, is meeting all of the performance outcomes from the current and previous fiscal year, and is a small percentage of the program’s overall budget.”

Moran expressed opposition to the Harvest Tabernacle’s inclusion in the list of the organizations to be funded, citing worries about the true financial status of the church.

Cutsinger, who has had a long career as a financial adviser, pointed out that churches are not required to file 990 forms with the IRS.

Rainford ultimately agreed with Moran’s recommendation that the Harvest Tabernacle program be left off the funding list.

At Rainford’s suggestion, the board members also agreed not to provide a grant to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program; he noted its similarity to the type of initiative routinely handled by volunteers. Moreover, Moran had talked about the nearly $5 million the nonprofit reported in cash and securities in its 990 filing. Some of that money could be used for the program instead, Moran said.

Cutsinger ended up casting the solitary “No” vote on Rainford’s motion to eliminate any county funding for the Big Brothers Big Sisters initiative. Cutsinger had talked of his service as a Big Brother. “I saw the incredible impact [of the program],” he pointed out.

Rainford retorted that he doubted Cutsinger was paid for his service in that capacity.

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