Leesburg commissioners voted to dole out more than $68,000 in civic grants Tuesday night – but not before a long discussion ensued about cutting a portion of funding for one group and upping it for another.
The longest part of the discussion centered on $7,500 originally slated for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida. Commissioner Elise Dennison was adamant about holding back funding to the organization until someone from the group appears before the commission and explains in detail what they’re doing to help children in the Leesburg area.
“We have asked them before to come and give us an understanding of what’s going on there and what’s been happening,” she said. “They don’t seem to show up.”
Commissioner Jay Hurley said he knows the group does good things for area children, but like Dennison, expressed dismay that past requests to have someone talk to commissioners before the city gives them money seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
“I’m a little disheartened with it,” Hurley said.
He added that because of past “issues” with the local Boys and Girls Club, it was taken over by Orange County. He said he’s also frustrated because the group sold a large, donated building with the promise of rebuilding closer to Carver Heights. But instead, he said, they’ve been in a city-owned, rent-free building for the past five years when they were supposed to be there on a short-term basis.
“There’s been stern conversations with them,” Hurley said. “I’ve had meetings with them and it’s a hundred percent ‘yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and that’s all it is, is conversation. Nothing has come about.”
On the other side of the coin, the commission agreed wholeheartedly that the Melon Patch Theatre, a staple in the community since 1951, should have its funding increased.
“Melon Patch does so much more in town with kids and everything else, so I would support giving them more money,” Dennison said.
Outgoing Commissioner Bob Bone agreed, adding that he’d like to see the future commission work with the Melon Patch group on facility upgrades. He said he had a list of needed improvements and would provide that to City Manager Al Minner.
“If it had a facelift that would help,” Bone said of the theater, located at 311 N 13th Street. “It’s a promotional tool for the city to bring people in.”
Before voting on the civic grants, the commission considered holding back total funding for the Boys and Girls Club until they hear from them. Bone said he was against that idea and pushed for the commission to give the group $5,000. Dennison, on the other hand, wanted the money held until the long-standing request for information from the group had been satisfied.
“I don’t think it’s harsh by saying that they should come and give us a report,” She said. “We’ve asked for that a couple of years in a row. Tell us what’s going on. Give us an update. Let us know where the Boys and Girls Club is going. And to date we have not received anything. So I can’t see just handing them the money.”
Eventually, the commission voted 4-1 – Dennison was the only “no” vote – to distribute the money as follows:
- Melon Patch Players: $5,500 (up from $3,000);
- Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida: $5,000 (down from $7,500);
- Community Development Corporation of Leesburg: $3,880;
- Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce: $5,000;
- Leesburg Art Festival through Leesburg Center for the Arts: $10,670; and
- Leesburg Partnership: $38,710.
In addition, the commission will consider giving another $1,455 civic grant to the Leesburg High School Band at a later date.