County officials discuss how state budget cuts will affect local services
on February 21, 2012
A variety of programs that the state once funded—focusing on, among other things, criminal justice, mental health and social services—will now be the responsibility of local jurisdictions, usually the county, because of state budget cuts.
Just how these cuts will play out in Alameda County, and what to do about the “financial tsunami that is coming our way,” as County Supervisor Keith Carson called it, was the topic of a budget forum hosted by the county supervisors on Tuesday morning in downtown Oakland. Representatives from county offices like the Sheriff’s department as well as community organizations like the Food Bank were among those in the audience.
Carson, the chair of the budget workgroup, said the forum was important for county residents and employees to be able to see how the budget works, and what it will impact. “It’s important we share this information with citizens, especially those directly impacted by it,” he said.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s 2011-2012 state budget includes a major realignment of state programs, responsibilities and revenues, mostly shifting it to local governments, said Kai Mander, an analyst with the county administrator’s office. While Mander did say the realignment plan provides $6.3 billion to local governments, primarily counties, to provide these programs that were once the state’s responsibility, as well as ongoing funds for these programs thereafter, he did not think those funds would cover the additional cost to the county.
“It appears they will not be,” Mander said. “Certainly on the public safety side and maybe on the health and human services as well.”
There are three major components to the change in public safety, Mander said, that will result in an increased workload for county employees like probation officers and public defenders. Under the realignment plan, non-violent state prison inmates will be supervised by county probation officers, parole violations would also be handled by the county jail and low-level offenders—those serving time for non-violent, non-sexual or non-serious crimes, will also be the responsibility of the county jail rather than the state prison.
Brian Richart of the county Probation Department said the shift has caused his department to create a “different methodology of supervision” for parolees. Richart said the new method focuses on providing alternatives to custody. and that his department is working with community groups to better provide services for things like mental health, housing or finding a job. “We can work with folks outside of custody and keep them working towards self-sufficiency,” Richart said.
The other major shift is in health and human services, what Brown is calling “support services.” Lori Jones, the director of the county’s social services agency, said there is no transferability of funds between support and public safety services, so neither can eat into the other’s budget in a crisis. Programs that were previously under the state’s jurisdiction, or received much of their funding from the state, like foster care, adoption assistance and child welfare services, will be completely funded by the county under the new budget.
Carson said the state is balancing its budget by redirecting these programs back to the county, making it critical that people understand services the state was responsible for are now delivered by the local government, and that these programs now no longer have a “long-term dedicated funding source.” Carson said local governments are receiving less than half the funding previously allocated by the state for these programs, adding there should be a plan for the state to re-absorb the programs if the county can’t pay for them.
“They’re dumping their budget problems on our back, and what we’re saying is if there’s a lot of lawsuits because of that we shouldn’t have to pay for those lawsuits because we didn’t ask for that,” Carson said. “If there is no long term adequate funding for those programs, we need some kind of protection. If we can’t provide these services, the state needs to take them back.”
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