Around the State- Southwest/ Tampa Bay- July 2002
Leaders of a program in southwest Florida fear new foster care guidelines will hamstring their progress.
By Amy Welch
Carl Weinrich is frustrated. His non-profit organization, Sarasota YMCA Children, Youth and Family Services, is part of an effort called Community-Based Care, under which the state contracts with a group of non-profits to oversee all protective services of abused and neglected kids.
Weinrich says the YMCA has built an effective foster care program in Sarasota and Manatee counties that has reduced caseloads and increased adoptions. He's worried, however, that new rules the state has implemented in the wake of the Rilya Wilson case will increase bureaucracy at the expense of effectiveness.
"We'll do what we have to do, but geez," says Weinrich. One beef is that new requirements may result in caseworkers spending more time on paperwork and less with the children. Weinrich says the state wants to add restrictions in its contract with Sarasota's Community-Based Care to increase caseworker accountability. Caseworkers would have to enter data on each child into a computer themselves.
Previously, data entry workers entered the information, with caseworkers inputting confidential data only, allowing them more time to spend with kids and families. The software program is cumbersome, incomplete and difficult for the caseworkers, who Weinrich estimates could spend as much as four hours a day inputting data.
Weinrich and Community-Based Care workers in Sarasota point to the progress they have made in the past five years without such regulations. All of the non-profits under contract with the Department of Children and Families are housed under one roof, saving money and time in placement and assessment. Where there used to be an average of 36 children assigned to each caseworker, today the average is around 13 children in Sarasota and 20 in Manatee. According to DCF, the number of cases -- there can be up to five children per case statewide is 21 per caseworker.
From July 2000 to March 2002 the number of children in foster care has declined by 37% in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Shawnna Donovan, a DCF spokeswoman, says the new requirements are meant to increase accountability and protect the children -- and aren't all coming from the department. "I understand that Sarasota, Manatee and now De Soto have been very successful, but a lot of the (new) regulations are coming from the Legislature. Not all of them are coming from us," Donovan says.
Weinrich says he's taken his complaints to local legislative leaders and to Gov. Jeb Bush himself.
"What keeps driving us is that we're doing it better, and we know we can do it even better than we are if we can get the bureaucracy out of the way," says Weinrich.
In the News
Auburndale -- The Coca-Cola Co. and subsidiary Minute Maid are working with Polk County officials to build a $120-million, 670,000-sq.-ft. bottling plant in Auburndale. The plant would initially employ 300, with salaries starting at around $33,000, and would produce Dasani water and Simply Orange brand beverages.
Clearwater -- Clearwater Mall will have a new look by the fall of 2003. Two developers, St. Petersburg-based Sembler Co. and New York-based New Plan Excel Realty Trust, will rebuild the mall into a $100-million open-air shopping center. The developers have lined up tenants for about two-thirds of the space, including SuperTarget, the first in Pinellas County, Costco and Lowe's.
Manatee County -- Manatee County voters overwhelmingly passed a half-cent sales tax in May to pay for school construction and refurbishment. The tax will raise about $25 million a year for 15 years and help keep pace with the increase of more than 1,500 children a year expected to enroll in the county's school system. The county commission previously approved higher impact fees on new homes, which will raise about $7 million a year for school construction.
Sarasota -- Sarasota has been named one of Money magazine's eight best places to retire. The magazine based its findings on housing costs, tax rates, crime and entertainment options. This isn't the first time Money has praised the area. In its December issue, it named the Sarasota-Bradenton area one of the "Best Places to Live," and in 2000, Sarasota was named Money's best small city.
Sarasota-based Pinnacle Holdings has been removed from the Nasdaq National Market listings because its shares fell below $1. The wireless communication tower company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.
Tampa -- When Tampa-based Davel Communications merges with Cleveland-based PhoneTel Technologies later this year, the combined company will take the Davel name, but the company's headquarters will move to Cleveland. The company would not say how many of its Tampa-area employees might lose their jobs but says it would continue to have a strong presence in Florida.
Tampa International Airport will spend about $110 million in the next year to install 25 to 30 explosive-detection machines to screen baggage. The machine's trace-detection system checks bags for residue from explosives. Security fees tagged onto airline ticket prices may go up from $2.50 a ticket because of the new systems, but officials have not said how much.
City officials want to build the first residential housing project in two decades in Curtis Hixon Park downtown. The city sent out a pitch to more than 300 developers nationwide. The residential tower would be part of a cultural arts district downtown.
Stefan Sanderling is The Florida Orchestra's new music director. Sanderling previously was music director of the Staatstheater and the Philharmonic Orchestra Mainz in Berlin. He was also chief conductor of the Orchestra de Bretagne in Rennes, France. Sanderling, 37, replaces Jahja Ling.
PINELLAS COUNTY -- Don Connolly hit a nerve with Pinellas County commissioners and homeowners. The real estate investor has been buying lakes and submerged lands in common areas of established developments at county auctions. In one case, Connolly erected a fence around a lake to block homeowners' views. He then offered to take down the fence, which he had painted pink, for between $5,000 and $30,000 per property owner. In another case, he wanted waterfront homeowners to buy back the submerged land below their docks that he was allowed to buy at a county auction.
Responding to outraged homeowners, county commissioners have made sweeping changes to the way the county auctions off land confiscated in tax-delinquency cases. Commissioners voted to post notices on vacant lands before auctioning off the property. Aerial photos of the lands will be shown on its local cable station. The county will also lobby to change state law that would require adjacent property owners be notified before common areas are auctioned.