TAMPA — The Family Justice Center, a nonprofit agency that helped victims of domestic violence, failed to win emergency funding from the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday following a scathing county audit. Instead, commissioners decided to keep the $100,000 requested by the center and reallocate it later to some other services for domestic violence victims. “We are not abandoning domestic violence victims at this board; we want to help,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who asked for the audit. Murman said domestic violence continues to be a “rampant situation.”
The vote appeared to spell the end for the center after weeks of frantic searching for emergency money. Commissioners made their decision after hearing a synopsis of the audit from Tom Fesler, director of business and support services. Fesler said the Family Justice Center had maxed out a $50,000 line of credit and used it for operating expenses. The agency currently has no employees, he said. The center was rocked last year when the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County cut its funding by half, to $300,000. Since then, the agency had been surviving on borrowed money.
“When they received notice of the reduced funding from the Children’s Board, we expected to see cost-cutting measures or some additional efforts to provide added revenue,” Fesler said. “While we did see some cost-cutting, it was not significant enough to survive into the future.” Fesler also told board members that the Family Justice Center had a “very large lease” for space at the Floriland Mall that consumed 35 percent of the agency’s budget. Nikki Daniels, executive director of the Family Justice Center, was at the board meeting with several of the center’s board members, but they were not invited to speak. In an interview afterward, Daniels claimed many of the audit’s findings were wrong, including Fesler’s contention that the center did not reduce expenditures significantly after the Children’s Board cut its funding. Daniels said the agency reduced its rent by $76,535, reduced phone service charges and left positions vacant in an effort to drive down costs. Overall, the center reduced its budget by $91,458 in the current fiscal year compared to 2012, Daniels said. As for the Floriland lease, much of that space was provided to other agencies that help domestic violence victims, Daniels said. The Family Justice Center acted as a clearing house, connecting victims with needed services, as well as counseling women and assessing the danger they faced. “They can come in one place and we can link them with everything,” Daniels said. “One of (the county’s) issues was we have a large space and pay a lot of rent, That’s true but we can’t do what we do in a small space.” Daniels said she expects the Children’s Board to eliminate the rest of the Family Justice’s Funding, just over $300,000, at a meeting today. Fesler told commissioners that the Children’s Board has agreed to increase funding to other agencies to fill the gap left by the Family Justice Center’s closing. “I think the bottom line today, the important thing the report points out is that the service gaps have been filled from our standpoint,” Fesler said. Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked County Administrator Mike Merrill to have county staff bring back options for reappropriating the $100,000 in a way that would address domestic violence. Beckner said the Family Justice Center had done good work, but was unsustainable financially. “I would strongly encourage them to reorganize and come up with a future plan to compete (for funding) again,” Beckner said. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-8303