TAMPA — Board members of the Family Justice Center asked Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday to give them enough money to keep the center’s doors open until October.
Commissioners heard the agency’s supporters out but offered no solutions. Commissioner Sandy Murman, a long-time advocate for services that benefit women and children, said the commission won’t decide on whether to make the requested $170,000 donation until a thorough audit of the center has been completed.
“We’ve asked all our non-profits to do this: Show us you can stay in business,” Murman said after the meeting. “It’s a great, great program, but we have to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
The center acts as a clearinghouse for victims of domestic violence, offering counseling, assessing danger and connecting victims with organizations that offer shelter. The agency also helps 80 to 90 victims a month get protective injunctions against violent spouses or boyfriends, Executive Director Nikki Daniels said.
“We’re the only program like this in the county,” Daniels told commissioners. “Victims and survivors can come to one place where options are available to them to get help from multiple organizations.”
The Family Justice Center was rocked when its main donor, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, cut its annual support by half, to $300,000. The center draws its $950,000 annual budget from a variety of sources, typically raising $65,000 to $75,000 on its own from private donors. The county gave the center $100,000 this year.
Duane Bishoff, the center’s treasurer, said the cuts by the Children’s Board were not the result of anything the Family Justice Center did wrong. The agency is tightly managed with overhead of just 14 percent, and audits of the agency come back “clean and unqualified,” he said.
“Do what’s morally right and support this organization that saves countless lives every day,” Bishoff told commissioners.
Family Justice board member Michael Neely said he once counseled a woman who said she had gone to the Skyway Bridge to throw herself off but instead came to the family justice center.
Neely, a pastor at New Millennium Community Church, said the woman told him, “I told God I’m going to go to the Family Justice Center and meet with this pastor, and if I don’t get a word today, I’m going to come back to this bridge and end my life.”
After four sessions with Neely, the woman said she had decided to live.
“We are a beacon, we are a light house in this dark world of domestic violence,” Neely said.
Murman said she expected the county’s audit to be finished in a month.