San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 8th, 2010
City pledges $500K match for family violence shelter

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Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center Executive Director Marla Johnson discusses a facility expansion with the San Marcos City Council last week. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The City of San Marcos has pledged as much as $500,000 to help a local non-profit agency more than double the size of its children’s advocacy center.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to match whatever other funds the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC) can secure from other entities for phase two of its capital campaign, up to the $500,000 total. The city’s challenge grant would contribute to the renovation of HCWC’s former family violence shelter so it can be used as a children’s advocacy center. The current 1,500-square-foot children’s advocacy center, Roxanne’s House, is located at 215 North Comanche Street across from the small H-E-B.

HCWC Executive Director Marla Johnson told councilmembers last month that the former family violence shelter, which is about 6,000 square feet, will be renovated and expanded by approximately 1,000 square feet. About 4,000 square feet of the facility will be dedicated to services for abused children. As HCWC anticipates the work will cost $1,017,000, San Marcos would end up funding about half of it if HCWC earns the full match from the city.

The first phase of HCWC’s capital campaign funded construction of a new family violence shelter, which opened last fall at a cost of $2.1 million.

“We did have some money from the City of San Marcos from the beginning and end of the (family violence) shelter project,” Johnson said. “But most of it has been from foundations. The (McCoy Foundation) gave us $1 million. So that, of course, is the biggest funder.”

Johnson said she hopes to have raised more money for phase two of the HCWC’s capital campaign by the end of August, when her organization’s partner agency, United Way, will begin its fundraising campaign.

The new project is intended to provide more interview rooms and counseling rooms outfitted with video equipment, and to separate the waiting areas for counseling clients and those who have reported — made “outcries” — of sexual abuse. Johnson said completion of the capital project will allow the organization to double services it provides to clients living outside of Hays and Caldwell Counties. Johnson said no one has been denied services due to insufficient space at an HCWC facility. She added that she is seeking additional funds from sources outside of Hays and Caldwell Counties.

The council was divided regarding whether to restrict the matching grant to funds provided by non-governmental entities. A narrow 4-3 vote defeated a stipulation that the grant money only be used to match contributions from private sources. Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, John Thomaides, and Ryan Thomason voted in the minority.

Johnson said no other government entity besides Hays County has contributed to the project. Johnson said Hays County built a road as an in-kind donation.

“I believe (Hays County) said that was worth $47,000,” Johnson said. “They are considering also doing our parking lot. We are in the process of talking about that right now.”

Thomaides expressed support for contributing funds to HCWC’s project, nut suggested San Marcos make direct appeals to other public entities for funds in lieu of matching their contributions.

“We cannot shoulder the whole burden,” Thomaides said. “There’s need throughout the county and there’s clients that you serve in other cities, and we all have to step up at this time.”

Councilmember Chris Jones opposed matching only private dollars, and asked City Clerk Sherry Mashburn to send a letter to Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson challenging Kyle to put up funding for HCWC’s capital project.

“I personally will go on the record and challenge the new mayor of Kyle, Lucy Johnson, to step up to the plate,” Jones said.

It was mid-May when Councilmember Kim Porterfield first suggested giving the $500,000 matching grant to HCWC.

“I do think this can create some friendly competition,” said San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz of the matching initiative.

HCWC served 239 abused children and administered 156 forensic interviews in 2009. HCWC served 1,107 adult and child victims from the indicated in fiscal year 2009, broken down thusly:

• San Marcos – 425
• Kyle – 168
• Buda – 51
• Wimberley – 38
• Dripping Springs – 30
• Elsewhere in Hays County – 18
• Total in Hays County – 730
• Lockhart – 101
• Luling – 36
• Maxwell – 28
• Martindale – 18
• Elsewhere in Caldwell County – 51
• Total in Caldwell County – 234
• Comal County – 6
• Travis County – 59
• Bexar County – 2
• Guadalupe County – 19
• Other counties – 57

Marla Johnson said the amount of program funding HCWC requested from cities is based on how many clients from each city are served.

“Most of them will give us a little bit less,” Johnson said. “For instance, Buda and Luling give us the funds that we request based upon the number of clients that we served from their (cities). Kyle is really struggling to keep up with their growth, and we are serving a lot of clients from Kyle. Not nearly as many as we serve from San Marcos, but more from Kyle.”

HCWC offers 24-hour access to shelter for survivors of family violence and makes temporary emergency shelter available for up to 30 days. The shelters provide food, clothing and other necessities for clients. HCWC’s children’s advocacy center works with a multi-disciplinary team to investigate and prosecute child abuse cases in Hays and Caldwell Counties.

Johnson said HCWC conducts an average of 170-180 forensic interviews per year with children who have reported abuse or are suspected of being abused. Johnson said the children’s advocacy center served 50 outrcies from Hays and Caldwell Counties combined when it opened in 1997.

“There’s been about a 22 percent increase in demand for our services overall since the economic crisis hit (in 2008),” Johnson said. “There’s just a lot more stress that families are feeling, and it’s leading to more and more abuse, more and more people making outcries.”

The city’s challenge grant will be drawn from leftover money and interest accrued in accounts used to fund old capital improvement program (CIP) projects. San Marcos City Manager Rick Menchaca said most of the funds are interest earned.

City of San Marcos Finance Director Steve Parker said the city usually uses such funds for items such as cars, equipment and building repairs. Parker said $837,000 is available in the particular account from which the challenge grant for HCWC will be drawn. Parker said the city used $162,000 from interest-bearing accounts to repair public buildings last year.

The council has used leftover money and interest earned in CIP accounts to build railroad quiet zones, fund engineering for the Village of San Marcos project, fund river cleanup efforts, and create the LBJ Museum.

Thomaides said, and Menchaca confirmed, that leftover CIP money and interest could be used to pay for change orders on CIP projects.

“I just want to point out that it’s not like we have the money laying around,” Thomaides said. “There are specific reasons we have this money. I’m just only a little concerned that we might get a situation where we might need it.”

Porterfield said the HCWC grant is different from the Village and LBJ Museum projects in that the latter were “flat-out grants,” rather than matching grants. Jones said San Marcos has a greater fiduciary responsibility to HCWC because the organization is based in the city.

“I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for the city to leverage our funds that are in an interest-bearing account, not earmarked for any project, with a desperate community need that needs to be filled,” Porterfield.

HCWC’s children’s advocacy center is where children are brought for forensic interviews. The interviews are conducted through a partnership comprised of law enforcement, The Hays County District Attorney’s Office, child protective services, and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

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