Monday, June 9, 2008

More 'devastating' cuts for Contra Costa

The county administrator delivered a grave financial update this week on the governor's revised budget that could further chop services affecting Contra Costa County's most vulnerable communities, along with more jobs.

And there's already talk of raising taxes to assuage the cuts.

Already raw from almost $52 million in budget cuts, the county could face even further "horrifying" and "devastating" cuts if any semblance of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's May revise passes, county officials said. The altered financial numbers show a statewide shortfall of about $17.2 billion.

The state hopes to raise $8.1 billion, largely from improving the lottery system, while cutting $9.1 billion, some of which will affect Contra Costa.

"We have not set aside a pot of money per se to backfill when the state stops delivering," county Administrator John Cullen told the county board of supervisors Tuesday as he relayed the report. "Once we know what the state changes are going to be, we can do an analysis on our programs."

Although expected and still up for discussion in Sacramento, the state cuts infuriated some of the supervisors who got a first glimpse of local impacts.

"The county and local government are being, once again, asked to fulfill the responsibilities of state government," Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho said.

"The reality is there's going to be some major, very vulnerable groups of people who are going to lose out," colleague AdvertisementSusan Bonilla said.

Heavily hit were health and human services. The county's Human Services Division already receives a state funding shortfall exceeding $23 million, and the revise would add another $27 million, according to the county.

Under the revise, Child Welfare Services would lose at least 10 social workers.

"The increase in workload for the remaining Child Welfare social workers would put children at risk due to increased delays in responding to complaints of child abuse and neglect," the report advises.

A delay in response times could also cause the agency to miss federal guidelines, causing fines, according to the county. The state also proposed a 10 percent reduction in foster care and group home reimbursement.

Poor Contra Costa families would also receive less CalWORKS payments, dropping the maximum payment for a family of three to the lowest level in two decades. The combined impact of the revision on CalWORKS cuts would leave more than 2,600 children without financial assistance, according to the report.

The elderly also would be affected by cuts to in-home supportive services, which could lead to cuts of staff members, according to the county.

Cuts to Medi-Cal could mean the loss of 45 county positions.

Immigrant health care would also lose funding, affecting documented and undocumented people. The state has also proposed eliminating a cash assistance program for aged, blind and disabled immigrants, which could affect more than 200 people in the county. Those immigrants would then shift to general assistance, shifting the funding to the county instead of the state, according to the report.

The probation department also could see cuts to drug-treatment programs, and mentally ill and youth crime prevention assistance.

Upon hearing the dark report, Supervisor John Gioia suggested the county start looking at raising local revenue sources, such as a 911 or utility tax.

"Frankly, I think we'll have an easier time raising revenues," he told his colleagues.

The county administrator plans to provide the board with a list of local revenue-producing options in a future workshop session.

The governor already has proposed a surcharge on all residential and commercial property insurance policies statewide to cover wildland fire costs. A state sales tax increase is also on the table.

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