Future uncertain for many Escambia County non-profit agencies

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Funding for about two dozen non-profit agencies in Escambia County is now up in the air.

Each year, about $1.5 million is allocated to different non-profit agencies throughout the county. The county's budget was finalized on October first, and approved agencies were awarded their funds. But just last week, those agencies were informed they can no longer count on that money and it's all because of the sheriff's budget appeal.

An email from the Escambia County Management and Budget Office reads in part: "In the event the county appropriates additional funds for the Escambia County Sheriff's 2017-2018 fiscal year budget allocation, then the county reserves the right to immediately terminate this agreement."

"I don't think we would zero out any of them, I don't think that we would; I certainly don't," said Escambia County commissioner, Jeff Bergosh. "But, that would be a decision of the board."

Bergosh isn't happy about the added clause but says if the governor rules in favor of the sheriff's budget appeal, the money has to come from somewhere.

"We don't want to pull the rug out from anyone," said Bergosh. "But you've got to be prepared for the contingent liabilities."

"They shouldn't be put in this situation," said Escambia County commissioner, Grover Robinson.

Robinson echoing the same thought, adding things should have never escalated this far, and they wouldn't have, had a compromised budget been agreed upon.

"The sheriff wanted three percent and two million dollars," said Robinson. "I said what we could do is give everybody two percent and the sheriff $1.2 million. If we'd done that, we would have additional money for the sworn deputies and they would have seen a larger pay increase.

The sheriff's office has until the end of next week to submit an appeal. We reached out for more information, but they declined to comment. Bergosh says the whole situation is quite rare.

"Sixty-seven sheriff's departments around the state, in the last 30 years, only three of them, have been decided by the governor," said Bergosh. "They're not in the business of solving our problems. We've got to work together, and that's what we've been trying to do."

For those agencies that did receive the email, Robinson says don't wait for the governor to make a decision. The time to act is now.

"My advice to them would be to tell the cabinet that the money allocated to them, should be the money allocated to them," said Robinson.

It could take more than twelve months for the governor to make a decision on the appeal. In that case, affected non-profits could be in the clear, at least for this fiscal year.

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