Once the county has a better idea of COVID-19's impact on county finances, it will be able to determine how it can assist, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said.
Facing residents' requests to support an expansion at the George Washington Carver Center youth center in Bunnell, Flagler County commissioners during an Aug. 3 meeting acknowledged the facility's importance in the community, but declined to make specific monetary commitments.
"If, after all of the smoke settles on these unexpected things that have come up, there is a way to accomplish this, I would be the first to help."
— JERRY CAMERON, Flagler County administrator
Barbara Revels, a member of the center's foundation and a former county commissioner, told commissioners that the center is desperately in need of the proposed expansion. About five years ago, the county had budgeted $100,000 for it, she said. Since then, construction costs have skyrocketed and the project has continually been delayed.
The center is now seeking $400,000 from the county, she said.
"I really think that if you look at the overall totality of that center and the use that it is getting, other than the Flagler County Library in Palm Coast it is the most used structure in this county," Revels said. "It's doing great things for our citizens. It's really time that you keep the promise, that you look at your budget, that you look at it very closely, and you find the money to do this addition."
The center has raised $50,000 to put toward the expansion, she added,
Resident Marian Irving-Redding told the commission that she'd started her education at what is now the Carver Center in first grade, when it was the county's only black K-12 school in the years before integration.
Since then, most of the former school was demolished except the gym building, which has been repurposed into a youth center.
"I stand here before you today asking you, each and every one of you, to fulfill the commitment you made — because the community needs what the Carver Center has to offer," she said. "The community needs that center, and we need to expand it as much as we possibly can."
"Given the situation in the United States right now, the protests and all that going on, I think there’s even more reason to follow up with the Carver Center as a way to help the situation."
— DAVID SULLIVAN, Flagler County Commission chairman
Jordan Butler, the director of the Flagler County Youth Center at the Carver Center, told commissioners that space conflicts at the facility have meant that some programs have been limited to once a week or once a month.
"It's been in the budget and it's been held up for a few years now, and I'm just asking you guys, as you move forward in the next fiscal year, that you really give that the utmost attention," he said.
The Road to Success youth program has also operated out of the Carver Center for eight years, offering GED preparation and life skills training, said Program Director Brian Willard.
"When they do have basketball classes going on downstairs, we do hear it," he said. "... This expansion would mean lots of great things could happen at the Carver Center and our youth program, and it's changing lives; it's creating opportunities for the youth in our community."
The program has graduated 229 students, he said.
County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen lauded the program.
"This is a most successful program," Ericksen said. " These kids drop out of high school, they get lost, etc. — they get back in this environment. They learn, they graduate, they find jobs. It's a real positive for the county and for the state."
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said that when he'd been hired in February 2019, he'd anticipated being able to fund the Carver Center expansion.
But since then, he said, COVID-19 has impacted the county's administration's expenses as well as those of constitutional officers like the clerk of courts, who has lost considerable fee-based revenue, and the supervisor of elections, who is dealing with increased expenses.
"We have to get those things quantified," Cameron said. "The Carver Center is a tremendous asset. ... If we didn't have that, those programs would cost the county considerably more than what we are spending at present. The problem that we have is that we have demands on a number of levels that are competing for these funds."
Among those demands, he said, are "grossly underfunded" fire services.
"I believe this is a commitment, no question about it," he said. "I believe it is a critical service to this community. But I also believe that it's so much money, and that we we have to be fiscally responsible. And if, after all of the smoke settles on these unexpected things that have come up, there is a way to accomplish this, I would be the first to help."
County Commission Chairman David Sullivan said he believed the Carver Center is an "extremely high priority" for the county.
"Given the situation in the United States right now, the protests and all that going on, I think there’s even more reason to follow up with the Carver Center as a way to help the situation," Sullivan said. "I personally feel this board should make a commitment to say the Carver Center addition ... continues to be an extremely high priority, and as soon as funds become available, we should go forward with it."
Cameron said that was his understanding of the situation, as well.
"I think we're getting vey close," Cameron said. "I just can not tell you that we could do that now until I know exactly what I'm going to be confronted with, with some of the constitutionals [constitutional officers] that have run into COVID problems."