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Salvation Army wants to do less with less

Domestic programs could suffer, but the agency's west Pasco director says less funding makes overall financial sense.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


The Salvation Army's domestic violence program desperately needs money, and in the past year, an extra $100,000 in government funds have been there for the taking.

But Maj. Tom Vick doesn't want much, if any, of the money; in fact, the director of the group's west Pasco operation has tried to cut existing services rather than take the money.

By turning away the money, he stunted plans to expand the program's shelter for abused women and expand its services for children.

"It makes sense to me," Vick said. "I know people say "You're turning away money,' but in the financial scheme of things, it makes more sense for us."

So far, taking such money has had no negative impact. Turning it away hurts services. But the Salvation Army supports Vick's decision.

Why?

He's trying to follow policy.

The Salvation Army requires that 11.25 percent of all donations -- including grants from government agencies -- be sent to its state headquarters in Tampa. That would be no problem, if Vick could take 11.25 percent of the grant money and send it to Tampa. Unfortunately for him, government grants prohibit that.

So Vick has to use donations from private contributors to pay what he considers a debt to his own agency. Those donations don't cover the nearly $50,000 he would owe the district office this year on existing grants of about $425,000.

Until now, Vick has chosen not to pay what he owes the state headquarters. And the office in Tampa has repeatedly forgiven that debt.

But a spokesman said headquarters does not intend to keep on forgiving. And Vick doesn't want to let the debt start building.

If state government offered him big money today, Vick would say no. He simply couldn't afford to take it, he said. He wants to reduce the program to where it's not building up a debt to headquarters, then build it from there.

That scares some people in the domestic violence field.

Penny Morrill runs Dade City's Sunrise of Pasco County, the county's only other domestic program. Her shelter serves a much smaller population with more money, and the thought of cuts in west Pasco alarms her.

"My concern is we're going to see an increase in battery charges and, God forbid, homicides," Morrill said.

These are not small dollars Vick is turning away -- $100,000 would account for more than one-fifth of the program's annual budget. Through the first half of this fiscal year, the program had raised just more than $20,000 from donations and fundraisers to add to its grant money.

In his drive to get fewer grant dollars, Vick recently asked the state Department of Children and Families' permission to slash the program to its core, essentially leaving just the shelter, the state said. It would have made the west Pasco shelter the only certified shelter in Florida without outreach services, according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Outreach consists of services such as counseling, legal assistance and helping victims apply for money.

Last year, 550 women used the services in west Pasco, according to program figures. That number is growing as the program rapidly expands.

DCF refused to let Vick cut those services and still get funds for the shelter, a DCF spokeswoman said.

Stephanie Walley, the domestic violence program director, who opened the program's first outreach building and drastically expanded those services, tendered her resignation shortly after Vick inquired about cutting them. She won't say until after June 8, her last day, if the two moves are related.

National Salvation Army officials in Alexandria, Va., said it's up to state headquarters to approve Vick's fiscal decisions.

The state headquarters doesn't get any payments on money Vick doesn't accept, and since it has been waiving the 11.25 percent fee, it hasn't been getting any money from the grants he does accept.

Doesn't that mean, the state Salvation Army was asked, that the only people hurt by Vick's actions are domestic violence victims?

"If you look at it that way, yeah," said spokesman Steve Dick.

But unconditionally waiving the fee is not an option, he said.

The policy requires local offices to pay, Dick said. It may forgive a debt if extra money is available, but it can't just waive the fee to make things easier.

Because of that, the state headquarters stands behind Vick, he said.

"We would support a local unit not accepting additional money if it puts an additional hardship on them financially," Dick said.

The financial hardship: Vick would owe money to state headquarters.

The headquarters uses that money for administrators' salaries and to provide audits, consultants and other "support services," Vick said.

Most of the money Vick turned away came from a single handout.

His shelter was the only one of the four domestic violence shelters in Pasco and Pinellas counties that did not seek the nearly $75,000 it was allotted last year in state Troubled and Needy Families money. All Vick had to do was fill out an application and he would have gotten the money, a state DCF spokesman said.

The second cut came this spring. After the DCF rejected his inquiries about slashing services, Vick sought the biggest funding cut possible, DCF said. The state agency offered a nearly $15,000 cut.

He accepted.

His reason for not receiving county money is not as clear.

In March, for the first time since 1990, the Salvation Army did not apply for a county homeless grant, said Dianne Morris, the county community development manager. It had received money every year, including $22,000 last year.

Vick said Walley, the domestic violence program director, didn't give him the application in time.

Walley said that's not the case.

Other national organizations with similar setups have policies that help them avoid problems like the one affecting the west Pasco organization.

Local divisions of the American Cancer Society pay 40 percent of their revenues to the national headquarters, a spokesman said, but any government grant money or donations earmarked specifically for a division are exempt from the payout.

The American Red Cross doesn't charge its local chapters a certain percentage, a spokesman said. Instead, it charges them a fee based on the amount of national services they use.

At the Salvation Army, only money from wills and legacies is exempt from the administrative fee, Vick said. So, in his view, more private contributions are the key. While he is turning away government money, he wants Pasco residents to donate more.

"The only solution is, we have to raise more money," Vick said.

- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3452, or by e-mail at rdavis@sptimes.com.

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