McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioners this morning approved funding requests from two agencies that provide assistance to children and families living within the county.
Commissioners okayed a $2,000 donation to the Bridge of Hope Child Advocacy Center, an agency in North Platte that Red Willow County uses in investigations of child abuse. That amount is the same as last year.
A total of 23 Red Willow County children were served by the Bridge of Hope CAC in 2011, and 13 thus far in 2012, according to LeeAnn Nielsen, executive director of the Bridge of Hope CAC. Nielsen said that state law requires that any law enforcement agency requesting a medical examination of a sexual assault victim pay for the exam. The average expense to law enforcement per exam in an emergency room is $800, Nielsen said; the average expense to law enforcement per exam at Bridge of Hope is $80, she said. "We're saving the county significantly through our forensic medical exam," she said.
Bridge of Hope provides general medical evaluations of victims of child abuse at no charge to the law enforcement agency or to the victim and his/her family.
Since 2007, Bridge of Hope has saved Red Willow County approximately $10,080 in exam fees, Nielsen said.
Bridge of Hope also charges nothing for hair follicle collection/testing for children living in drug endangered homes or who are suspected of having ingested illegal drugs. The average cost for a hair test is $105. Since 2007, Bridge of Hope has provided 12 hair tests for Red Willow County, saving the county $1,260.
Bridge of Hope has three full-time staff members, and contracts for nursing services and physicians through Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte. Bridge of Hope covers a 15-county area of Southwest and central Nebraska. Lincoln County provides office space.
Nielsen said she is again requesting $5,000, as she did last year, because the number of Red Willow County children with whom Bridge of Hope works continues to increase.
Neither commissioner Steve Downer nor Vesta Dack felt comfortable with a donation larger than last year. Dack said, "Your service is wonderful, and much needed. We want to do more, but we're not in a position to do more."
Commissioners agreed unanimously to donate $2,000 to the Bridge of Hope.
Commissioners increased -- very slightly -- its 2012-2013 donation to the Family Resource Center in McCook, from $3,750 to $4,000.
"We could maybe do better (than $3,750)," Downer said. "This is a time we're maybe not pulling our load. I'd hate to have other counties use our donation (rate) as an excuse for not giving."
The Family Resource Center provided services for 518 Red Willow County families in 2011-2012, which is the bulk of the total of individuals served by the seven-county agency, according to figures shared by Kathy Haas, executive director of the FRC. The agency has served, area-wide, 1,400 individuals since July 1, 2011.
Donations from Hitchcock, Hayes, Furnas, Frontier and Dundy counties range from $375 to $1,750, for an average of $1,045 per county.
Commissioners commended Haas and board member Eileen Young for their work accomplished with a budget of just less than $47,000, three part-time staff members and a corps of volunteers.
Haas said last year, FRC served 478 families in Red Willow County, and is seeing an increase of 11 percent in requests for services this year.
Haas said that without donations, FRC would have had in the past closed its doors. "It's absolutely true," she said. "Without every donation -- of any size -- we would have to close our doors."
She continued, "There are many families in crisis. We impact a lot of people on a tiny budget. If we close, it would be a horrible loss to the area."
The FRC eliminated rent payments in April when Grace Baptist Church offered the use of its Sunday School wing. "We help with the utilities, but we pay no rent," Haas said. Because of the reduction in the rent and the elimination of one phone line, the FRC's budget for 2012-2013 has even decreased, she said, from $46,249 to $39,400.
Young said, "Free rent at the church is definitely a blessing."
Dack said it is important to support agencies that support Red Willow County residents, agencies that are based in Red Willow County. "You are to commended on the efficiency of your budget," she told Haas and Young.
Commissioners have said that -- with voters' decision to keep the tax levy for the new law enforcement center within the county's state-mandated 50-cent tax levy -- donations such as those to Bridge of Hope and Family Resource Center may have to be cut or reduced if county budgets become extremely tight during the 20 years it takes to pay off the new jail/sheriff's offices.
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt said this morning, "I hate to start cutting services at this time," agreeing with Dack and Downer to increase the county's donation to the Family Resource Center from $3,750 to $4,000. McNutt cautioned, however, "We can help out now, but what the future holds for us, who knows?"