Thursday, June 4, 2009

Contra Costa braces for deeper budget cuts in core programs

MARTINEZ — State budget cuts and further dire economic predictions will force Contra Costa to shutter entire departments, consolidate others, lay off employees and turn successful programs into a shadow of their former selves, the county administrator warned supervisors Tuesday.

"We will have to look at how we can restructure the county," David Twa said.

In addition to almost $150 million in county cuts since May, Contra Costa waits for yet another shoe to drop as the state untangles a $25 billion mess. Health services and employment and human services expect to get hit the hardest in the latest round of cuts.

"It's been bad. It's been horrible and it's going to get worse," said Mary Piepho, a Discovery Bay supervisor, after Twa and two department heads gave their oral reports.

Contra Costa expects to lose as much as $33 million to the state, which plans to borrow county property tax revenue. The state would have to return the money within three years with interest, but no interest rate is set and there are few guarantees in this economic climate, Twa said. As Contra Costa takes on more debt, it will incur higher interest rates on other loans as well, he said.

The state may also take a portion of vehicle license fee revenue designated for public safety, as well as shift inmates from state prisons to county jails, Twa said.

Employment and human services and health services could see the most severe cutbacks.

The Advertisementworst-case proposals for employment and human services:

Eliminate the CalWORKS program, impacting 10,395 Contra Costa families that receive benefits if they meet federal work requirements. The move would send those families onto general assistance, increasing county costs from $93,000 a month to $5.3 million a month, said Joe Valentine, employment and human services director.

Eliminate in-home support services to only the most disabled clients, causing 85 percent or 6,511 persons in Contra Costa to lose assistance.Although the move would save the county $15 million annually, those clients could end up in institutional homes and 2,764 workers who care for them could wind up in the county health care system after losing work, costing Contra Costa in the long-run, Valentine said.

Cut child welfare services and group foster care homes funding by 10 percent.

In Contra Costa, the cutbacks could cost 15 social workers their jobs and impact 475 foster children, Valentine said.

The worst-case proposals for health services:

Eliminate the Healthy Families Program statewide, impacting 13,200 Contra Costa children and costing the county about $15.5 million, said William Walker, health services director. The program provides low-cost health insurance for children.

Reduce the county's HIV/AIDS programs funding by 80 percent. "It would be devastating to HIV/AIDS patients in our county," Walker said.

The state cuts would lead to job losses for county employees whose positions are funded by state dollars.

In addition, due to a state cash shortfall, both health services and employment and human services departments' July and August payments may get delayed, causing Contra Costa to borrow more money, Twa said.

"The system is so broken we have to start from scratch," said Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, "but we can use this as an opportunity to reform state government."

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