Four providers receive almost 90% of all county funds for behavioral health services, Commissioner Moran points out to colleagues

First Step of Sarasota won close to 70% of those funds in the 2021 fiscal year

Commissioner Michael Moran has been the champion of the Mental Health Care Special District. File image

Four providers of behavioral health services in Sarasota County receive “just a hair under 90%” of all the funds for such initiatives, County Commissioner Michael Moran recently pointed out to his colleagues.

Using figures for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, Moran provided his fellow commissioners documents ahead of their Sept. 28 meeting showing that First Step of Sarasota received 69.78% of all the behavioral health funds, which totaled $5,806,617. First Step’s portion was $4,051,859, a document noted.

This fiscal year, First Step will receive extra county money for a new 40-bed, secured treatment facility designed to divert from the jail convicted offenders who are suffering with mental health and substance abuse issues. That program was planned to get underway during the 2021 fiscal year, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed its beginning to this fiscal year. The estimated annual operating expense for that facility is $2,629,234, based on a February 2020 discussion in which the County Commission engaged.

Of the 2021 behavioral health funds, 7.5146% went to the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the Suncoast (JFCS); 6.6002% went to the Salvation Army; and 5.8224% went to Centerstone of Florida Inc., one document showed.

The Salvation Army received $383,250; JFCS, $436,344; and Centerstone, $338,085.

Altogether in FY 2021 the county included $4,929,889 for behavioral health services through what it calls its “Core programs,” plus $876,728 in allocations from its Contracted Human Services Fund.

A county staff memo explains, “The Core Human Services Programs are programs which the [commission] considers essential to the quality of life in our community or which are required to be funded through a statutory obligation.”

The county’s Human Services Advisory Council offers recommendations on spending for the Contracted Human Services Program, the staff memo adds. The programs typically are selected through “a competitive process focused on Board priorities,” the memo notes.

Several of the 19 members of Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC), whom the commissioners appoint, must have expertise in health care issues. However, 10 of them are “at-large representatives,” the advisory council’s county webpage shows.

This is information about the makeup of the Human Services Advisory Council, as contained on a county webpage. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the Core expenses in FY2021, another one of Moran’s documents showed, $1,250,162 went to First Step for its Addictions Receiving Facility, $970,718 for “Crisis Stabilization,” $124,435 for “Comprehensive Substance Abuse Treatment,” and $80,000 for “Crisis Emergency Screening.”

For another example in the FY 2021 budget, the Salvation Army was allocated $383,250 for room and board and services to homeless individuals. For years, Sarasota County has contracted with the Salvation Army for beds to enable homeless persons to get off the streets and obtain assistance in becoming self-sufficient.

Altogether, the 2021 fiscal year funding allocated to behavioral health services represented 67% of the county’s dedicated Core money for that year.

This pie chart, showing a breakdown of Core funding for the 2021 fiscal year, is among documents Commissioner Mike Moran provided to his colleagues prior to the Sept. 28 commission meeting. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Contracted Human Services Program budget for the 2021 fiscal year shows that First Step again had the highest allocations: $318,235, for outpatient behavioral health services for adults and children. The larger portion — $200,000, or 63% of the total — was dedicated to helping adults, the document said.

The total HSAC recommended funding for both the FY 2021 and FY 2022 county budgets is $4,267,506, another document noted. The amount designated for behavioral health represents 20% of those budgets: $876,728.

This is a section of the June 25 minutes of the Human Services Advisory Council. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Moreover, Moran noted on Sept. 28, revenue generated by 0.1661 mills of the county’s property tax is directed to the county’s Health and Human Services budget each year. Because the county’s property values have continued to climb since the Great Recession ended, Moran added, those funds have kept growing. This year, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office determined that the overall value of county property is up approximately 7.2%, compared to the 2020 total.

Therefore, one of Moran’s documents noted, county staff anticipates receiving $1,630,902 more for behavioral and non-behavioral health services this fiscal year.

Policy decisions, past and future

Although the board members in June approved the establishment of a Mental Health Care Special District that they will govern, they also voted unanimously on Aug. 27 not to impose a 0.10 mills tax for services through that district in the 2022 fiscal year. Based on the new property value, that rate would have brought in approximately $6.7 million this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the county’s Office of Financial Management told The Sarasota News Leader.

In July, when the commissioners approved the not-to-exceed millage rate for the 2022 fiscal year, three of them supported that new funding stream — Moran, Nancy Detert and Alan Maio. Each year, the maximum rate has to be included on the Truth in Millage notices that Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst’s staff sends out in August.

At the time, Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Ron Cutsinger explained that they would have to cast “No” votes because of their commitments to constituents, when they campaigned for office, that they would not raise taxes.

Ziegler was elected to the District 2 seat in November 2018, while Cutsinger won the District 5 seat in November 2020.

Subsequently, on Aug. 27, Chair Alan Maio pointed out that a task force of subject matter experts reviewing funding for county mental health and substance abuse services likely will not have its final report ready until the spring of 2022. That information is to show details about how the county has been providing assistance to the public and note gaps and overlaps in those services.

These are part of the powers of the Mental Health Care Special District. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After approving the Mental Health Care Special District, the commissioners asked Chuck Henry, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, to appoint individuals he believed would be best suited, because of their expertise, to analyze county spending on the services.

On Sept. 28, Moran also told his colleagues that he had met individually with each of the task force members whom Henry had appointed. Further, Moran said, he had talked with leaders of all the nonprofit foundations in the community, as well as with representatives of some of the larger service providers and members of their boards.

The work of the task force, he continued, already is “proving very, very useful to the taxpayer and getting a return on their money.”

In regard to gaps and overlaps in services, Moran added that he expects “great presentations” to the County Commission in the future, as the task force wraps up its discussions.