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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, May 3, 2022 1 month ago

Volusia County Council tables grant agreement to allocate ARPA funds for domestic violence services

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The council was concerned about $100,000 of the $240,000 allocation of funds slated for the Beacon Center to be used for a statewide conference.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

Though the Volusia County Council had already approved the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds for domestic violence services, on Tuesday, May 3, the County Council voted 6-1 to table a grant agreement with the Beacon Center until June 7, citing a "vague" budget plan and concern about the domestic violence shelter's proposal to use a portion of the funds for a statewide conference. 

The tabling of the vote was meant to give the Beacon Center more time to adjust its budget plan. It would also allow other domestic violence organizations to vie for the dollars, planned to be distributed annually through 2025.

The $240,000 ARPA allocation was approved as part of a broader Feb. 15 vote, and the Beacon Center sought to use it to further its Safe at Home project, according to the drafted grant agreement. The project is intended to "monitor perpetrator compliance, review current practices, identify areas of improvement and offer accountability solutions that support survivor safety." 

County Councilman Danny Robins, honing in on the conference proposal — which the Beacon Center budgeted $100,000 of ARPA funds for, spread out in $25,000 increments over four years — said he would prefer to see the funds "go to direct immediate need for victim services."

"I saw a lot of meetings and whatnot, but that's just my standpoint as it sits right now, " Robins said. "... And maybe give it a little bit more oversight."

Beacon Center Chief Executive Officer Angie Pye said that the funds would be used to as a progressive approach to perpetrator accountability, a prevention effort which is often not allowed to be funded using regular grant, federal or state dollars. The conference, proposed to be held annually in Volusia County with experts on issues related to intimate partner violence will include raising awareness on strangulation and other pre-incident indicators to domestic homicide, a problem Volusia County faces today.

Pye shared that there are 20-25 strangulation cases a month in Volusia County, and more than a third of the cases are not prosecuted or perpetrators face a lesser charge. 

"These are things that affect victims' safety and increase domestic homicide," Pye said. "We know that there's evidence-based programs and that's what we've been talking about in our group — is building the capacity of our prosecutors, of our cops, of our social workers to address lethality and safety in these cases in an effective way."

Volusia ranks 10th in the state for the number of total domestic violence offenses per 100,000 people, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The day to day needs of the victims and their families — the diapers, electric bills, food, clothing — those are within the abilities of the Beacon Center to provide today, Pye explained. The ARPA dollars would be also used for training, a community needs assessment, and the development of a task force. 

County Councilwoman Heather Post, who voted against the tabling of the agreement, pointed out that the $240,000 were a sliver of the over $107 million ARPA fund allocation the county received, and that this proposal had support from State Attorney RJ Larizza and victim advocates with local police departments. There are no experts in Volusia County for law enforcement to pull in for court when trying domestic violence cases, she said. 

"So what they have to do is they have to really hustle and find someone, if they even do that at all," Post said. "... It's not being done, and if they do, it's tremendously expensive. Why do that when we have people in our community that we can educate, we can make experts within the community to handle these cases correctly?"

She suggested the council's opposition to the grant agreement was politically-motivated. 

Though Pye, who also explained that the county's instruction for submitting information for the grant had been "very piecemealed," initially swayed County Council Chair Jeff Brower with her remarks, but aside from Post, the rest of the council was not convinced. 

"I don't know anybody in here that's got $240,000 to just hand over when we have a pretty bland, plain Jane budget here," Robins said. "... And I know we're not the experts per se in this field but we are supposed to be paying attention and experts in drilling down this budget." 

County Councilwoman Barb Girtman said she was disappointed that Post alluded to politics playing a role, and said that she was concerned in investing the dollars wisely, and suggested if perhaps a portion of the funds could be pursued by another domestic violence organization such as one on the west side of Volusia. Councilman Fred Lowry said he found "it's only political people that think everything is political."

Post is not seeking re-election. 

"The entire point of proposing that the ARPA funds go toward this end was to work with the courts for perpetrator accountability to really work to reduce the numbers in our county and to assist the victims and assist the families that are impacted from this," Post said. "... We have so many nonprofits in our county — bless them all — but we can't be dividing monies up as we've always done in different areas and expect it to have true tremendous impact."

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