I recently received an angry email from someone very concerned about the budget cuts the county is considering in response to the depressed economy and cuts coming from the state. She feels county services like recreation are critical to preventing future law enforcement problems and she asked the county to involve communities in coming up with solutions. She’s right and she was unaware that we are in the process of contingency planning to weather these and future budget cuts.
We have directed the county administrator to try to keep some of these at-risk services going for now, but there will still be huge losses in terms of county programs (and huge losses to our residents). We will lose more of our families who will go to other areas to find work. But contingency planning with a caring community is a critical component to minimizing losses and making it through what’s coming.
Craig Pedro, county administrator, recently wrote about the proposed reductions to the recreation program:
- The direction the Board provided staff on Tuesday was for construction of a preliminary budget which includes full year funding for operations of Standard Park (e.g. soccer, little league, high school baseball and softball, adult softball, etc.) and all three Youth Centers (i.e. Groveland, Jamestown and Tuolumne).
- The Board also provided direction that funding be provided for all Summer 2009 recreation programs and all other base Recreation staff through September 2009.
- During the final budget hearing to be held in August 2009, the Board will be able to reassess what additional cuts the state will be imposing on county government as well as consider updates on all other County revenues and expenses. With that completed, the Board will consider further changes (additions and/or deletions) to the actions contained in the preliminary budget.
- The Board has gone on record that public safety is one of its top priorities, but I know all of the members highly value recreational services as well. I believe that tension is evident in the direction the Board gave staff on Tuesday which preserved more recreational programs at the expense of public safety services. In fact, the preliminary cuts to public safety services ($834,689) out weigh those proposed to recreational services ($318,284) and library services ($293,000) combined.
Over a year ago I asked District 3 residents to help prioritize the most important services for the county to maintain if we had budget difficulties. The top priorities were public safety – police and fire – and roads (expressed by those who attended listening sessions and/or responded to the poll on my website). Largely as a result of District 3 input and what other supervisors were hearing, the county added three deputies last fall. Things have gotten slightly better since, although they are nowhere near where they should be for us to feel totally safe. Given Board direction to balance the cuts, the county is now reevaluating if we can afford to apply for a COPS grant to put resource officers back in the schools. The grant would provide three years of guaranteed funding, but we have to determine if we can fund the fourth year, as required by the federal government as grantor.
It is an inescapable fact that people direct much of their anger at the Board of Supervisors since we are the ones you talk to and see day to day, but let the Governor and our legislators know about your displeasure, as well. In addition to a slow economy, blame for the cuts rests firmly on the shoulders of Sacramento where they refuse to delay implementation of some expensive programs unrelated to basic human needs and are STILL passing similar legislation with funding requirements – even as they promise to take money from schools, cities, counties, and special districts. A part of the blame also belongs to “we the people” for our apathy and for voting to approve statewide ballot propositions with big costs and that guarantee large portions of the state general fund are diverted to fund them.
Are there areas in the county budget that can/should be cut? Yes, and we are doing that. Are there areas in the county budget that will have to be cut that shouldn’t be? Sadly, yes. The county has taken some unpopular actions in the last three years to cut services we could no longer afford, but we must be good budgetary stewards. The state will now have to do the same and it will hurt here at home.
So, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but after expressing it we must move on to develop contingency plans for community solutions. There’s a leadership role if you are willing to assume it. You can be a model. What’s coming – and some fear it may be like the Depression – will require that. The opportunities to demonstrate through example will be many.
Over seventy-five people representing local government and nonproft safety net providers met several months ago with members of faith-based and service organizations to identify upcoming crises precipitated by the downturn in the economy and looming budget cuts. Now, a group is working to set up community gardens and build local food networks, another is cutting wood for next winter that will be available to people needing energy assistance, the Sonora Area Foundation is in the process of raising $500,000 to go to four local safety net provider organizations to help people in need, and we are looking for ways to develop emergency homeless shelters and transition facilities for families who will need a place to live while they save money to get into a rental home. These are a few of the efforts already under way, but there are many others either planned or waiting to be imagined and taken up by caring communities.
If you have ideas for volunteer-run solutions, please click on post a comment below and I will contact you to follow up. For example, we’ve talked of keeping two county pools open in the summer of 2010 – one of them would be in District 3 in Tuolumne – so that kids can be taught to swim and have some recreation opportunities. We will need help to do that after this summer. Some leaders in Twain Harte are talking about raising funds to keep their pool open and Mi-Wuk Village leaders are talking about raising funds for their library.
Hang in there, friends. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, but we have within us the skills, abilities, and compassion to make it through together. Those of you who pray might ask that we’d be guided by wisdom and compassion in all our decisions and that the communities will rise up to help. Finally, I anticipate a lot of folks will show up at the Board meeting at 9:00 am on the 9th of June to lobby for their favorite programs – a strong showing from District 3 would be good.