Reporter

Over $385,000 of government money was allocated to local charities Aug. 21, but not before a healthy dose of squabbling between Kissimmee city officials.

Each year, the city appropriates money to local nonprofit groups as part of a competitive Social Services Request grant process.

The following groups were awarded funds by Kissimmee commissioners during the board meeting:

• Osceola Council on Aging: $100,000

• Park Place Behavioral Health Care: $65,000

• Aspire Health Care: $40,000

• Community Hope Center: $70,000

• Community Coordinated Care for Children: $8,000

• Help Now Osceola: $45,000

• Orlando Health Dr. Phillips Center for Children and Families – Healing Tree: $5,000

• Children Home Society of Florida: $2,000

• The Opportunity Center: $2,500

• The New Birth Orlando Assembly of God: $5,000

The city also awarded $55,000 in Quality of Life grants to the following organizations: Osceola County Historical Society, Osceola Arts, Boys and Girls Club of Osceola, Osceola Reads, Shriners Circus and Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

Debates and discussions that lasted nearly an hour focused on which nonprofits should receive funds and how much they should get. Below are some highlights of those discussions.  

Osceola Council on Aging

The Council on Aging received $100,000 - the largest amount awarded to a single organization by the city that night.

Mayor Jose Alvarez praised the Council on Aging for its good work in the community, and even suggested making the council’s yearly appropriation a line item so that it wouldn’t have to come back and re-apply year after year.

Fellow board member Wanda Rentas, a strong fiscal conservative, firmly opposed the idea.

“They should have to go through the same process as everyone else,” she said.

Two other commissions agreed with Rentas, and the group outnumbered Alvarez on the line item issue.

Aspire Health Partners

The mayor voiced  opinions on Aspire Health Partners, a nonprofit agency that provides behavioral health, addiction and homelessness services to the community.

He said the city wanted to place additional bridge housing – dwellings for those transitioning out of homelessness – on property currently owned by Aspire. When city officials asked for a price on the 5-acre plot, Alvarez said he was “very disappointed” at its hefty price tag considering they were gifted the property to begin with.

“A good partner doesn’t act that way,” the mayor said.

The nonprofit asked the city for $50,000 to maintain its HOME program -  Helping Others Make the Effort – which already provides 16 units of bridge housing to families.

The board ultimately decided to grant Aspire $40,000 like last year, not the $50,000 the nonprofit asked for.

Community Hope Center

The meeting got heated when the Community Hope Center requested $85,000 from the city - $55,000 more than it did last year.

Rentas, who vocally supported County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry’s concept for a one-stop homeless crisis center, said the additional funds were an irresponsible use of taxpayer money. Increasing the Hope Center’s funding would also take away from funding other, smaller nonprofits, she added.

Alvarez and Rentas have butted heads over the topic since Choudhry asked for city support on the idea before she took it back to the county in July. The mayor, along with two other commissioners, had opposed lending support to Choudhry, noting that many of the proposed services offered at the center were already available at CHC.

By allocating $55,000 more, the CHC could afford to stay open one additional day a week and hire a new social worker to provide more services to the community, Alvarez said.

The board settled on granting $70,000 instead of the asked-for $80,000.

By the end of the meeting, the city was forced to cut more than $40,000 from the money it had appropriated in order to stay within budget.

Ultimately, the board – with Rentas opposing – chose to transfer over no more than $25,000 from its contingency fund to the Hope Center.

A contingency fund is used for emergencies or unexpected outflows, mainly economic crises.