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FEATURE: With Deadline to Set Tax Rates Looming, County Commissioners hear from Non-Profits Denied Funding in Proposed Budget

Category: Local Govts & Politics

By Lou Phelps, SBJ

June 8, 2018 - The Chatham County Commissioners held a hearing Friday afternoon to receive input from a number of non-profit organizations across the County, primarily from those that had their applications for funding declined or reduced in the proposed County operating budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year that begins July 1.  The Commissioners must approve their final balanced budget, and set the County millage rates by the end of June.

Thirty-four different requests from non-profits were received by Chatham County, totaling $9,119,638, plus a request from SEDA for $100,000 for the film office.  The County staff committee that reviewed all proposals has recommended to the Commissioners is to fund $7,218,984, and County Manager Lee Smith is recommending funding $6,903,214.  No funding for the film office is in the budget, as it now stands.

The County has tentatively adopted a millage rate which will require an increase in property taxes by 1.75 percent in General Maintenance and Operations taxes, an increase in property taxes by 0.99 percent in Special Service District taxes and by 1.86 percent in Chatham Area Transit Authority taxes, but those increases will not necessarily increase all of the millage rates.  Two public hearings will be held on the proposed tax rates on June 14 at the Commission Meeting Room, 2nd Floor, of the Old Courthouse, 124 Bull Street, at 9:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. 

First up Friday afternoon was the Savannah-Chatham Homeless Authority. The director began by saying, “Let me share my sincere disappointment in your unwillingness to fund housing for homeless veterans,” adding that none of the Commissioners took her up on her offer to visit any of the homeless camps over the past year. She said that they have tried to work cooperatively with both the city and county, and to discourage members of the public from protesting about homeless issues, but she “was not sure” that those efforts could be thwarted in the future.  The County staff recommended funding $170,000, but Smith is recommending no funding.

“We have been quietly working to get the county and city to work to come up with a masterplan for what is happening in this community, but that hasn’t happening,” she stated. “I think that people are disappointed with what is happening with housing in this community.” And, she urged them to “take seriously the need to address homeless in this community.  To aid her presentation, volunteers held up a large map of all of the homeless camps in both the city limits and in the county. 

The City of Savannah funds $189,000 annually for the Authority’s ongoing operations, and in 2018, approved a one-time grant of $10,000 to tear down a dilapidated building to allow for the new ‘tiny house’ program.   Their denied request from Chatham County was for one-time funding for $200,000 to build housing for 70 homeless veterans, using the tiny house program, and not a request for annual operating funds.  The organization raises $600,000 a year from private funding to assist the homeless, she stated.

Next up were representatives from the ‘Communities in Schools’ program whose funding request of $300,000 was not supported by the review committee or Smith.  However, the director said she wanted to grab the opportunity to speak to be sure that the Commissioners understood the program. The program places a full-time site coordinator in each of the county’s failing school to help insure that each child has the opportunity to learn, including case management, basic needs, academic assistance, and one-on-one work with the adults in their lives services.  

The Savannah-Chatham Public Schools (SCCPSS) funds $40,000 a year toward the program in one school.  However, recently, the State Board of Education has now adopted their model, and has agreed to fund the program in two of the system’s failing schools – there are currently nine according to the Georgia Dept. of Education standards.   The cost of the program is $85,000 per school.   Dr. Joe Buck is the Chairman of the Board of the organization.  They are part of a statewide ‘Communities in Schools’ program, from which they receive $23,000 annually, and the program is viewed as one of the ‘pieces of the pie’ to fix failing schools, by the state, she added.  

The County has also notified the Curtis V. Cooper Center that they were cutting their funding request from $2.7 million to $2,034,000. “We really don’t know how that was computed,” said their director, Albert Grandy, Jr.  The program is the largest primary medical care program in Chatham County, with 175 employees and three dental providers, with a goal to add another dentist in July, according to Dr. Lorna Jackson, a dentist there.  She explained the critical impact of the lack of dental care on citizens, indicating the additional medical issues that can result, and said they have even had a 12 year-old child who died due to an absyssed tooth. 

On average 19,000 patients are served a year, receiving medical, dental, vision, psychological, radiology services and at their in-house pharmacy.  They are now focused, also, on integrating the healthcare of their patients, with aims of reducing hospital stays and visits to area ER’s.  “We try to treat the entire person,” said Dr. Jackson.  They are now going to three schools with a mobile dental unit, to increase childrens’ access to care. 

About 65% of the patient visits at Curtis V. Cooper are indigent patients, and they state that they are providing 54.2% of all indigent medical care provided across the county by the four ‘safety net’ medical centers:  Curtis V. Cooper, J.C. Lewis, St. Joseph’s/Candler and Memorial Hospital. All care for indigent and /or low-income patients.   They have an annual contract with the County that is based on per patient rates. Commissioner Helen Stone asked why there was a differential between the rates that they were to be paid per patient and the budget figure, if they have a contract, and was told that the staff would “get back to her.”

It is the County’s responsibility to insure there is adequate indigent health care for its residents.   Commissioner Chester Ellis asked whether the County allowing the appropriate percentage of funding to each of the requesting organization, based on their indigent service levels.  He was told that the staff would get back to him with more data. 

Eastside Concerned Citizens, Inc’s nurse training program has been recommended for only $15,000 in funding versus the $30,000 requested, according to Executive Director Freddick Patrick, next to speak. The organization has a contract with the County to run a certified nursing assistance training program, which is considered an entry level job to the medical field. There there is a growing demand for employees with these skills in the county, said Patrick.  Their efforts are also viewed as a poverty-reduction effort, creating jobs.  He said that their organization had completed all deliverables in the grant for 2017-2018. “There were more than 85 openings in Chatham County over the past year, and most of those completing the program are quickly employed,” he told the Commissioners.  As an example, he said that one of their graduates already had two clients, and has gone from earning no income to earning $2,500 a month.

Greenbrier Children’s Center and Shelter, led by Gina Taylor, is in the budget at their requested levels,, but their director spoke to talk about the organization, now 69 years old.  The Center began as an orphanage for African American children, but has evolved into providing quality childcare, and emergency services for children.  Their childcare center is currently going through the state’s quality-rated process.  315 children were served in 2017, including 43 children at the emergency center.  They are nationally-accredited as a children’s service organization.  They funding request was denied

The J.C. Lewis Primary Care Center’s Chief Operating Officer, Brandon Gaffney, spoke next. The county has been providing funding for many years. Their request for $1,134,658 is recommended to be funded at $1,130,000.  Gaffney reviewed improvements taking place in expanded medical services, including a new collaborative effort with Memorial Hospital for lactation support for mothers.  They fund a portable homeless medical clinic, with the intent to provide primary care, as well as to attempt to get “this population into care rather than ER,” he explained. 

Commissioner Ellis asked what percent of their patient population was indigent, and was told it is now 74% indigent, of which 40% is homeless, said Gaffney.  In 2009, their services were expanded when they received their primary care designation, allowing them to expand who they could serve, and they purchased a pediatric practice in recent years to expand their services.

This led Chairman Al Scott to point out that the center was originally created to provide health care for the homeless only, which it was created by the Lewis family.    

MedBank, led by Lora Horne, is a new applicant for County funding for next year, and spoke, explaining that they are a 26-year old organization with a $385,000 budget, that includes two full time and four part time employees. In 2017, they served 1,863 people - 52% of which were from Chatham.  They requested $40,000, and are recommended to receive $30,000.

MedBank connects qualified individuals, primarily chronically-ill patients, to pharmaceutical opportunities for free or very low-cost medicines, in partnerships with various area medical clinics.  In 2017, they project that the residents of Chatham County alone saved $3.6 million on their medication costs, due to their program which helps them fill out all the necessary paperwork. They also oversee the renewal process for medications. “Many are not able to handle this,” said their spokesperson.

The service also reduces visits to area ER’s, she said.  They have requested funding to add one person, to have more consistent office hours.  Currently funding is by grants, private donations, and contracts with clinics.  And, she added that St. Joseph’s/Candler provides “tremendous support” with office space, and other assistance.”  

Commissioner Ellis said that he was concerned that there is a duplication of services going on in Chatham County in the health care arena, comments not directed at just at her or their organization, but based on the presentations that he had heard.    

Also heard was a request from the Neighborhood Improvement Association, led by Debra Simmons, seeking $35,000 in funding to continue their program, which has been denined.  They are a non-profit community development program with three primary services including: voluntary income tax assistance program, an IRS program for anyone making less than $54,000 a year.  They also offer first-time home buyers’ workshops, and affordable homebuilders program, working with low to moderate income individuals, to help them build assets.  They operate sites all over the county, and all preparers are IRS certified, and many are volunteers.  The funds would be used for payroll, supplies, overhead and marketing, to target Garden City and Thunderbolt low income residents.

Savannah Early Childhood Foundation representatives also spoke. Their request for $50,000 is not in the proposed budget, and not recommended by the review committee or the County Manager. They are operating under a current MOU with the County, to run ‘Parent University’ and ‘Early Learning College’ programs, held at area schools.  They have exceeded the requirements for the number of programs to be offered in the current year’s contract.

Early Learning College classes were held at five schools in the past 12 months, and their new ‘Baby Shower’ programs have been highly successful,  used as a recruiting tool to get more young parents to their early college series.  1,000 parents were served, with an average with 82 in attendance at each session in the past year.  With the addition of the Baby Shower program at Yamacraw Village this year, they saw a significant increase in young adult attendance at the Early Learning Colleges and Parent University classes. 

Parent University offers 41 different classes focusing on parenting skills, so that the parent is “developing a literate, school-ready child.” 

They offer high quality child care while parents are talking classes, with an average of 70 child cared for, of the 82 average attendees at an Early College classes, it was stated.  They have growing attendance, and are working closely with Georgia Southern University in a project to help them understand changes in parenting behavior. 

Commissioner Tabitha Odell asked if they offered sex education training, and was told that it is not a formal program, but that contacts with the Chatham County Health Dept. programs are provided.

The City of Savannah denied their funding this year, and but they are funded annually by SCCPSS last year.  Chairman Al Scott asked if they city gave them any reason for cutting their funding. 

Savannah Film Office, under SEDA, was denied their request for $100,000 in funding to support efforts to bring film and TV production companies to the county, viewed as a jobs and economic development tool.  According to SEDA, direct spend by such out of area companies is up 258% since 2014, according to Kevin Jackson, chairman of the SEDA Board of Directors, and 495 people are now registered in their crew-base registry system.  They also had 95 graduates of the State of Georgia’s film academy in the past year from Chatham County.  There was $138 million in direct spend in 2017, with $60 million spent so far this year, “with other great announcements coming this year,” added SEDA President Trip Tollison. 

Commissioner Tabitha Odell responded, “My constituents are dismayed with local, small business participation,” but Tollison said that they will meet with whomever was interested, to share with them the opportunities, and committed to insure she had materials that she could pass out to residents in her District.  

Adam Walker spoke on behalf of St. Joseph’s/ Candler hospital system, the only private, not-for-profit hospital system in the county, he said, which funds both the St. Mary’s Health Center and the Good Samaritan Clinic.  Both are aimed at increasing access to primary care services for the “most vulnerable,” he said, and are the only two completely free clinics in Chatham County, serving only indigent health insurance.  Their patient base is at 200% or less of Federal poverty guidelines. 

The request for St. Mary’s Health Clinic was $239,669, with the review committee supporting $145,770, and County Manager Smith recommending no funding.  The request for $150,784 for Good Samaritan was not recommended by either, and is not in the budget.

The clinics are apparently not part of the medical record-sharing ‘GRAChiE’ system in Georgia, which appears to be one issue in the denials, based on statements made by Chairman Al Scott.   

Walker the Commissioners to suspend their decision on their request for funding until the hospital system’s President, Paul Hinchey and County Manager Lee Smith can meet to discuss any problems with their application.  No commitment for that was made.

Harambee House’s funding request of $50,000 was also denied by both the committee and Smith. The organization works to train and target the unemployed and ‘returning’ citizens from incarceration, in environmental justice to develop a career, not just a job, said their spokesman.  Those trained receive OSHA and Hazmat certifications, so that they work anywhere in Georgia where employers are seeking that skillset. The organization also offer training in lead-based paint removal.  It is the first time they have come to the County for funding.  They have received funding in the past from the EPA and the Dept. of Energy.  They are also seeking funding from the City of Savannah, in coordination with the city’s workforce development efforts, he added.

The Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council, which has been operating for over 20 years to prevent discrimination in housing, had their funding denied. Disability in housing was the highest volume of requests received by HUD in the past year, their director explained, including unlawful evictions.  “We try to make sure before someone winds up being evicted, we can keep that person in housing, so they don’t end up at the Homeless Authority, or in Magistrate Court,” he said.  They also provide legal assistance in housing, including investigating claims of discrimination.   They requested $40,000, but he said they would be glad to accept less funding. 

The Safety Net’s organization funding issues have been resolved, said Smith at the end of the hearing, so their director did not appear to speak.

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    • Guest - Cindy Kelley

      I wish to correct factual errors/information. Our legal name is Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless. The annual City of Savannah contract with CSAH is $190,000. The Tiny House Project will house 72 vets. CSAH has raised $600,000+ for the Tiny House Project, not operations. Thank you.

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