Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Non-profits team up with city officials to protest cuts


Santa Barbara city officials joined local non-profit leaders yesterday on the steps of city hall to urge the County Board of Supervisors to rethink $8.4 million in proposed budget cuts to the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.
The scene was rare: city leaders criticizing county leaders for their budgeting practices, and non-profit leaders who rely heavily on county funds to operate rallying behind city support.

If anything the interwoven group of leaders, who were joined by about 50 mental health consumers, was an illustration of how issues like homelessness, addiction and other social issues can at once be fiery and divisive, and conjoining as well.
That being said, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum didn’t hold back from criticizing her fellow politicians on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, who she said need to do more to keep the cuts off the backs of the people.
“The consequences of the county budget are huge and they’re going to fall down here right on the city,” she said. “We want the county to do the right thing. They have to do their budget in a sound way so it doesn’t hurt the people and the people they represent.”
If the cuts are approved, some fear as many as 800 mentally ill adults currently receiving housing and other county services could be purged from the system and end up on the streets, in hospitals or dead.
The non-profits, which receive about $10 million in funding each year from the county, could lose $5.9 million of that money if the cuts are approved — a number they say could cripple their ability to provide current levels of service.
The remainder of the cuts would come from county-operated health clinics.
Bill Batty, executive director of Family Services Agency, said the purpose of the news conference was to inform the public of the severity of the cuts and urge people to sign petitions contact their supervisors and attend an April 22 board meeting where the cuts will be discussed.
“Today we’re asking the community to join with us to ask the supervisors not to adopt the proposed cuts,” he said.
Steve Cushman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, held a sign above his head that said: “ADMHS abandon the cuts not the clients.”
In a rare phone interview yesterday, ADMHS Director Ann Detrick said the department simply doesn’t have enough money to go around.
“It’s really challenging to be faced with such significant budget cuts in our system right now,” she said. “We do have to make cuts… There’s really no easy answer here.”
At the April 22 meeting Detrick is expected to present the board with the proposed cuts, which on paper balanced the department’s 2008-2009 budget. In return, the board will likely float $2.3 million into the department’s coffers to balance the 2007-2008 budget, which came in $6.9 million over budget.
Mike Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter, said he hopes the board will turn down the cuts, send Detrick back to the drawing board and ask that the department be restructured in such a way so as to not impact people already receiving services.
Many non-profit leaders insist the county needs to take a completely different route to balancing the budget and give more money to the non-profits. Foley said non-profits can often provide services more efficiently and cheaper than the county.
Between April 22 and the end of June, when the board will adopt their final budget, Foley said he hopes to see the department begin directing more money to the non-profit sector.
When asked if she would sit down with non-profit leaders to redesign the department, Detrick said she’d do what the board asks her to do.
Detrick acknowledged the partnership developed between the county and non-profits over the years is one she values and wants to remain intact.
“We’re going to try and preserve that partnership to the extent that we can,” she said.
For the past couple of weeks, Detrick has been notifying non-profit leaders about the cuts they should expect when June rolls around.
Annmarie Cameron, executive director of Santa Barbara Mental Health Association, said she receives $1 million from the county and has been told that number will be chopped to $100,000. If this happens, she said 14 board and care beds that are used by some of the county’s most severe mentally ill could be closed.
“It is the worst-case scenario,” she said.
The group of non-profit leaders opposed to the cuts have formed the Association of Local Leaders for Community Mental Health (ALL 4 CMH), and launched a Web site www.savementalhealth.org, which is dedicated to that cause.

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