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Bush veto crimps adult care center

The governor's budget review leaves no state money for the new Largo Adult Day Services Center, but officials say the center's opening won't be delayed.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


LARGO -- Fred Buchholtz and others with Neighborly Senior Services hoped that if they began building the new Largo Adult Day Services Center, they would raise enough money to finish the job.

So the group broke ground on the 5,500-square-foot facility in March 1999. The county offered $220,000 toward the project. The community raised another $100,000.

But the governor's veto Tuesday of $426,000 in state money leaves the organization a bit short.

Buchholtz, president and chief executive of Neighborly Senior Services, said his organization will either have to take out a mortgage or raise a lot more money from the community to make up for the loss. He said the senior center's opening, scheduled for early fall, will not be delayed.

"Our board of directors had to make a leap of faith. Yes, we'd be on the hook financially, but it was the right thing to do. To wait until all the finances were in place could delay the delivery of services," he said.

"It's just such a solid project. It boggles the mind how it was not approved," he added. "It's not like we're scratching our heads saying, "Gee, we never considered the possibility of this happening.' But we counted on the state seeing the essential nature of this program. I hope the community will see we've made this commitment . . . on behalf of the community."

The adult center was not the only local project to feel the wrath of Jeb Bush's pen. The governor announced his line-item vetoes of the state budget Tuesday.

The governor vetoed $350,000 requested to expand community health centers in Clearwater, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg, and he cut $50,000 that the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Association hoped to use to light soccer fields in East Lake.

Tracy Payne, president of Community Health Centers of Pinellas, said his organization was counting on the state money. The three clinics see about 50,000 patients a year, most of them uninsured, Payne said. They need more space and updated equipment, he said.

"We're dead now. We may have to shut down some of our operations because of that," Payne said. "I'm not asking for the moon. I'd just like to upgrade things to the 20th century."

The governor did support a number of community efforts in Pinellas County, including a new library for the North Greenwood area of Clearwater, renovations to the Anclote Key lighthouse just west of Tarpon Springs and park upgrades in Oldsmar, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Largo and near Tarpon Springs.

In addition, he checked off on a $3-million appropriation to help the city of Seminole and St. Petersburg Junior College build a joint-use library, scheduled to be completed in 2003.

"This is a red-letter day for the library," said Jim Olliver, provost of SPJC's Seminole campus. "Now the work begins."

The fate of a state program to bolster cities' efforts to renovate spring training facilities to retain their Major League baseball teams was undecided. That measure is in a separate bill. The governor has until June 6 to render a decision.

Largo hasn't had an adult day-care center since August 1998, when the old program had to leave St. Dunsten's Episcopal Church because the church needed the space. Since then, older residents have traveled to a center in Clearwater to participate in sing-alongs, games and arts and crafts.

The new facility, expected to cost around $750,000 to build, will care for more than 35 seniors each day who are mentally ill or suffering from dementia. That means caregivers, mostly family members, can take their loved ones to the center and continue working without having to use a nursing home.

Rep. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, who along with Sen. Donald Sullivan, R-Seminole, requested money for the Largo adult center, said the governor is reluctant to spend state money building non-governmental structures.

"I don't think it says anything negative of the (Largo) program. It has a long history, a good track record and it has certainly served a lot of people," he said. "It just wasn't their time."

Buchholtz said he hoped the community would support the center.

"I'm almost speechless," he said shortly after learning of Bush's veto. "I'm still kind of reeling from the impact. We need these in communities."

-- Times staff writers Wilma Norton and Ed Quioco contributed to this report.

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