DALLAS — On Thursday, Polk County Budget Committee approved giving Polk County CASA $10,000 more than was proposed in the 2017-18 budget.
The extra funding is to “keep our doors open,” said CASA board member Mike Barnett in a presentation to the committee on Thursday.
“But we don’t just sit back and ask for handouts,” he added.
Starting in 2015-16, Polk County began offering the program financial support, enabling the organization to open an office in Dallas.
CASA volunteers are advocates for children in the foster care system while their cases are in the courts.
Barnett said CASA has been active on the fundraising front, holding an annual golf tournament and Christmas tree sale, among other events, but still struggles to cover all of its expenses.
While still in need of financial assistance, the program has improved upon its mission of representing children, Barnett said.
The mostly volunteer program has placed 85 percent of children in the court system with advocates.
More CASA volunteers will graduate from the training program in about six weeks.
“The kids coming in are getting CASAs right away,” Barnett said. “Basically, we are backfilling the cases that have been around for a while.”
Polk County Administrator Greg Hansen said the plan in fiscal year 2015-16 was to provide $25,000 to CASA and reduce that amount each year until the program was self-sufficient.
In 2017-18, CASA was supposed to receive $5,000, but it was clear earlier this year that plan wasn’t going to happen, Hansen said.
“Was that optimistic? Very much so, but it was the hope and the goal,” Hansen said. “Obviously, that hasn’t become a reality. I think (it) probably won’t get there, at least in the short-term.”
He said in this fiscal year, CASA received $15,000 and was granted another $5,000 in December.
Hansen said the organization held a five-year planning session, which recommended asking for $30,000 in county support for the next five years.
At the same time, the organization will focus on fundraising and applying for grants to become self-sustaining.
Hansen proposed $20,000 this year, and Barnett requested the committee consider adding $10,000.
“If you give them the other $10,000 right now, it would go to a good cause, and I don’t want to diminish their ability to do their job,” Hansen said in response to the request.
Committee members agreed.
Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler, who is on the committee along with her fellow commissioners, said that the committee typically makes decisions based on available funding and what is good for the county, not “from the heart.”
This time it can do both, she said.
“If we don’t get those kids out of the situation they are in, they will cycle through the criminal justice system or they are going to be on the street with mental health issues,” she said. “This is what I call prevention.”
Wheeler and Commissioner Mike Ainsworth also offered to help with fundraising.
The committee voted unanimously to give CASA the extra $10,000.
Barnett thanked the committee and said the organization will keep working on its finances, as well as its mission.
“Our CASAs take their role very, very seriously,” he said. “We are viewed as an officer of the court, so we take that extremely seriously.”
Hansen said the money will come out of the county’s $3.8 million contingency fund.
The request is the only major change to the budget the committee approved.
The committee tentatively approved the 2017-18 budget Thursday, with a general fund of about $23.7, a $1.4 million increase from the current budget.
The overall budget — including departments receiving state or federal funding for operations — is $69.2 million, up from $66.2 million this year. About 7.35 additional positions will be added in 2017-18.
“The county is in a solid financial position, which is a nice place to be,” Hansen said.
The budget committee will meet at 10 a.m. on May 17.
It will review any revenue changes — including the possibility of adding county maintenance bond proceeds if voters approve it during the May 16 election — and make its final recommendation to the Polk County Board of Commissioners.