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Putting a face on county budget cuts

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Pastor T.J. McBride, of the Tabernacle of Praise Church International, came before the Henry County Board of Commissioners with a message, recently. His intent was not to save souls, but to tell board members how their decision to scrap funding for a program designed to help families, is going to hurt the community.

"I understand what you all have to do," said McBride. "But ... we need to really consider these programs that we are cutting. I've seen it ... save two marriages in my church, and also save two juvenile cases," the pastor told commissioners.

"This is something that we definitely need in this county. We need, as a county, to focus more on families, and not just on money. We've got to make sure that we build families, because if we don't have solid families, we don't have solid communities."

The Life Management Solutions program (LMS) is designed to help people overcome adversity by providing strategies to build strong individuals and families. It has helped numerous families in the county.

The commissioners, last month, announced that funding for LMS would be eliminated from the 2011-12 fiscal year budget. The budgeted amount, according to Henry County Finance Director Mike Bush, was $276,196.

LMS was started in 1998, as Youth and Family Services, administered by the Henry County Juvenile Court, said its director, Sandra Reagan.

"State and federal funds are not as available," Reagan said. "So, we took the initiative to seek additional funding support through community partners, faith-based organizations and volunteers."

Reagan said she first heard about the funding cuts for her program and others last month, while watching a budget review at a televised commission meeting. The news, she said, was "devastating" for her staff and for the county. "It's been told to me that there's been consideration, that they'll just cut out the department altogether," said Reagan.

Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, called LMS an "excellent program," but she said national, and local economic woes left local government leaders without a lot of options.

"Pastor McBride and I have had a conversation before, that perhaps we could rally the troops, so to speak," said the chairman. "A number of pastors can attest to the fact that this program has helped their congregations, and this is a great opportunity for the faith-based community, and even some of our private businesses, to step up and help assure that this program continues ..."

Ricardo Hill, of Stockbridge, told commissioners that LMS has played a role in his life. "I have a great job, and my wife has a great job," Hill said. "But things have happened in my family where we needed some assistance, and the assistance was there. If you take away the assistance, you'll be creating more problems -- not helping the situation, but bringing it down."

Karen Benedict, of McDonough, said LMS is a solid program that was instrumental in bringing "sanity" back to her home earlier this year.

"LMS helped our family identify the root causes of our problems, and helped us change," Benedict said. "Our house today, compared to seven weeks ago, is 180 degrees in the opposite direction -- but in the right direction, and we have LMS to credit for that."

Reagan said she remains committed to helping to strengthen area families.

"This department may be depleted, but there is no doubt that I am very passionate, and I will not let these families down," said Reagan. "Where there's a will, there's a way."