PUNTA GORDA — A Punta Gorda veteran project stood out among other fund requests at the annual legislative delegation meeting in Punta Gorda this week.
The city started the Veterans Crisis Assistance Team, or VCAT, program in 2020 to help local authorities better manage situations involving military veterans who might be experiencing a mental health crisis or are in need of assistance.
At Wednesday's annual public meeting, city officials presented to Charlotte County's three-member legislative delegation — Sen. Joe Gruters, District 23, Sen. Ben Albritton, District 26, and Rep. Michael Grant, District 75 — hoping to receive state funding support to expand the VCAT program, among other projects.
No official decisions were made at the meeting regarding which projects might receive funding assistance.
"I was very interested in the VCAT program, especially with the population of veterans we have and their contributions," Grant said to The Daily Sun after the meeting, which was held at the Military Heritage Museum.
Additional funding for VCAT will allow the city to support their first year of providing a licensed mental health clinician as part of the city’s first response team.
More funding will also allow them to provide recovery kits for homeless veterans, printing costs, VCAT challenge coins, help funding for shelter and transportation, and more.
The estimated cost to help the city expand the VCAT project is $64,480.
"My hope would be that if we use this as a pilot program," Grant said. "Maybe the county or Southwest Florida will join in and make it a bigger program going forward to take care of more folks."
Punta Gorda Police Chief Pam Davis told The Daily Sun the program has already been successful.
"This year we’ve been able to help several veterans and we’ve seen a lot of success with the program, but we think we can expand it," Davis said.
She went on to say that the delegation members are going to review every part of the program and make sure it is the right thing for state taxpayer money.
"We feel good about it and encouraged," Davis said. "They’ve asked a lot of questions in the past and so we are hoping to see us get some of this funding."
The city also made fund requests for three other projects — another involving public safety and two for water quality.
The city's request for a new training tower structure would allow the fire department to meet the 228 hours of annual fire-related training required by the Insurance Service Organization.
Project cost to fund the structure is estimated at around $175,000.
City officials also hope to get funding for the first phase of a new central sewer collection system in the Charlotte Park area to replace the aging septic systems and improve water quality, according to city documents.
The base cost is around $24.5 million, with an additional $6.1 million, bringing the total $30.6 million.
The other water quality project included funding assistance for a wastewater force main extension along Riverside Drive.
The project will provide wastewater service to a new development and the potential to connect four existing mobile home park communities along Riverside Drive that are currently using on-site treatment systems.
Project cost runs around $941,300.
"That’s a lot of money (for both projects)," Grant said. "I don’t know how much that state is going to do.
"I asked them which of these two projects are more important and the Mayor Lynne Matthews said her choice was Charlotte Park."
During the city's presentation, Matthews told Grant the Charlotte Park was more important to her because: a lot of those properties are waterfront properties."
Grant told The Daily Sun he thought the Riverside Drive project would have a larger impact at the state level with the area's close proximity to Peace River.
"But that’s their choice so I’m sure we will have more conversations about that and we will see where the money ends up going," he said.