Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman has proposed slashing money for youth empowerment centers in West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach because the cities have refused to pay for the operation of the countywide inspector general’s office.
In a recommendation to county commissioners last week, Weisman proposed cutting $70,000 from the $170,000 proposed by the county’s Criminal Justice Commission for the Riviera Beach center and all of the $50,000 currently proposed for West Palm Beach’s center.
West Palm Beach Spokesman Elliot Cohen said it was inappropriate for Weisman to tie the city’s center to the legal battle over how the inspector general’s office is funded.
“He is mixed apples and oranges,” Cohen said. “We are all facing the same budget pressures. I am hoping in the end (the county commission) will separate the two issues.”
Riviera Beach officials did not return calls for comment.
Weisman said of his recommendation, “The numbers are fully supported by the amount of money it is costing us for the IG. We can use the money we are saving and put it towards the IG.”
The county commission last monthpledged to plug a $687,000 budget gap that Inspector General Sheryl Steckler’s office would have faced for the budget year that starts Oct. 1 because 14 cities and towns, including West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach, have refused to pay for her oversight.
The 14 cities challenged the bills they received for the anti-corruption oversight in a lawsuit they filed against the county in 2011, but they have repeatedly said the challenge is not an attack of Steckler or her staff. Instead, they said they fear that if the county can force cities to help pay for a county department like the inspector general’s office, it could soon send them bills for other countywide programs.
West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach also are among the five cities in the county with youth empowerment centers designed to reduce crime by giving teens recreational, job and educational opportunities. Four of the cities — West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, Belle Glade and Lake Worth — had asked the Criminal Justice Commission for help paying for the operation of their centers.
The Criminal Justice Commission in turn recommended that the county pay $520,000 to help the four cities. That recommendation included a reduction of what West Palm Beach had originally sought. West Palm Beach initially asked for $225,000 in county money, which the Criminal Justice Commission cut to $50,000.
West Palm Beach also spends about $500,000 to run its youth empowerment center in Pleasant City. Parks and recreation officials say the center has successfully helped more than 150 teens go to college and find jobs.
Without the county money, the city will no longer be able to hire certified teachers to help tutor students, West Palm Beach Parks and Recreation Director Christine Thrower said. The city may also have to cut its technology instructor.
The city also recently lost a grant that had helped pay for some of the center’s programs.
West Palm Beach’s center serves about 70 teens a day, offering tutoring, job training, audio visual programs, and computer assistance. Since opening in 2007, roughly 1,000 students have registered there, 101 have found long-term employment after completing its job training program and 61 have gone to college, Thrower said.
“It is the largest one in the county,” Thrower said. “It has served as a national model for empowerment-based programs.”
Under Weisman’s recommendation, the county would set aside $400,000 for three centers.
County commissioners are expected to discuss the recommendation at their budget hearing on Sept. 9. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the county’s government center, 301 N. Olive Ave. in West Palm Beach.