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Family Justice Center Out Of Money

Before It Opens

 

SCOTT D. YOST

August 28, 2014

The much-anticipated Guilford County Family Justice Center has hit a serious funding snag that has advocates asking where the money will come from to run the center.

 

The new agency, which is planned to be a resource center for troubled families facing issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, runaway children and problems of a related nature, was expected to open on July 1 of this year, but, instead, the office at 201 S. Greene St. in downtown Greensboro now sits empty and unrenovated, with a large portion of its anticipated funding suddenly up in the air.  Now the earliest it could open would be next year – if it opens at all.

 

The center, a joint effort between the City of Greensboro, Guilford County and area nonprofit community-based organizations, was expected to operate largely on grant money.

 

But Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said he recently received a text from outgoing Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller informing him that a key anticipated grant to pay for the cost of the center had fallen through.

 

“The chief asked me if I’d be willing to put in $100,000 to $150,000 of money from the [Sheriff’s Department’s] federal forfeiture fund,” Barnes said.

 

The money needed to open the center is more than that, but the $150,000 was to be the sheriff’s part of making up the difference.  Proponents of the center have now gone back to the drawing board to find ways to open the justice center at a lower cost than planned.

 

Barnes said the police chief asked him in a text, “Can I count on you for that?”

 

Barnes said he responded, “No you can’t.”

 

The sheriff said he has pressing needs for the money in the federal forfeiture fund – the Sheriff’s Department fund that accumulates largely by confiscating money and property from drug dealers and other criminals.  The Sheriff’s Department generally gets to keep 80 percent of the value of confiscated goods, with the other 20 percent going to the federal government.  Barnes said that money is all committed and, when it comes to other sources of money, he’s all tapped out.

 

Barnes said that, for instance, he hadn’t gotten new night vision goggles for the SWAT team in 10 to 15 years and his officers need new ones.

 

 “When they break, you can’t fix them,” Barnes said of the high-tech goggles.

 

He also said he would need to use an as yet undetermined amount of federal forfeiture money to equip a new special operations center that’s being built.

 

Barnes added that his department already plans on providing service to the center in the form of manpower.

 

“I’ve already committed personnel to it,” Barnes said.

 

The justice center, if it does find make-up funding eventually, will be staffed by employees already on the payrolls of the participating entities – for instance, three social services employees are slated to work out of the center along with sheriff’s deputies and staff from area nonprofits.

 

Barnes said that, with a key grant falling through, he doesn’t know where the justice center will get the money it needs.

 

 “It was supposed to be done with private money,” Barnes said.

 

Barnes’ observation is correct: One of the reasons the proposed center gained approval from the Board of Commissioners with ease is that, other than some cost the county was paying for renovations – many of which would have needed to be done anyway – the justice center was going to be run largely with private money.  At the start of the year, the Guilford County commissioners voted to spend about $60,000 to repair, paint and upfit the office space on Greene Street, but much of that work is yet to begin – even though the justice center was supposed to be up and running two months ago.

 

One possibility is to get the funding from Guilford County commissioners who control the county’s purse strings, but Barnes said he has spoken with Commissioner Hank Henning about the funding shortfall, and Barnes said that after that and other conversations he isn’t sure the board has the political will to make up the difference.

 

He added that the grant falling through leaves the center in the lurch.

 

“I don’t know where they are going to get the money from,” the sheriff said.

 

The commissioners are already considering scaling back operations at a county funded long-term residential drug care unit or shutting down those operations entirely.

 

It’s one thing to run a program with grant money but it’s a much harder sell to commissioners when it’s taxpayer money that would otherwise go to other local services – and one of the big selling points of the Family Justice Center is that it was going to be run at little expense to local taxpayers.

 

Commissioner Alan Branson said of the recent development, “I don’t know enough of the details yet, but I think we would be hard pressed for the board to get in behind it with the way other things are going.”

 

Branson cited Guilford County Emergency Services as one critical area with a strong need for more funding.

 

Commissioner Kay Cashion, who has been a major proponent of the new center and one of the driving forces behind it, said that this setback means the center’s advocates will have to regroup and find alternative funding, perhaps from community partners.  She said that, even if everything goes well from this point and new funding is found, it would likely be next spring at the earliest before the center would open.

 

“It’s disappointing,” she said.  “I think everyone is disappointed.”

 

Guilford County’s Family Justice Center has been in the planning stages for about two years, and it is largely modeled after similar agencies in Forsyth County, Cumberland County and other areas across the state.  Guilford County was expected to qualify for grants that have helped fund those similar centers, but clearly a large chunk of that anticipated money has dried up and is now nowhere to be found.

 

The center, as planned at least, would address the immediate and fundamental needs of victims and families, get the situation under control, and attempt to see that the clients get access to services that are needed on a longer-term basis.

 

 

 

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