Interesting year in the soup kitchen

This has been an interesting year, hasn’t it? For the county, it’s not unlike being an orphan in a soup kitchen, begging the state for just a little more gruel. Meanwhile, the federal government has come in like Santa Claus with ballet slippers for everyone: not what we needed, but we’re not turning anything down! A very interesting year indeed.

Before I go into bad news, I have to say that you are amazing! I’ve been working with leaders of the local safety net programs to make sure that critically important basic needs programs continue to feed, clothe, and house the increasing number of people impacted by the depressed economy. The Sonora Area Foundation came to one of our meetings and based on what they heard, put together half a million dollars (including $250,000 in matching funds). These went directly to some key providers to supplement their strained budgets. Now that’s more like it!

Back to ballet slippers. As I write, ATCAA is scrambling to put together a grant application for major stimulus bucks to provide computers, training, and jobs in our county. A major broadband grant was awarded to a local internet service provider. In addition, a project I have been trying to get funded since elected is on the ATCAA list likely to be funded by the federal government: live streaming video of Board of Supervisors meetings AND software that will make it possible for you to download staff memos and attachments to Board agenda items. Before meetings you will be able to read everything the Board has in front of them and afterwards, you will be able to listen and replay exactly what is said and done by every supervisor and every staff member. This will be a great advance of transparency in county government.

Meanwhile back in the soup kitchen, we approved a draft budget in June – that was good, but it wasn’t all good. In order to do that, significant cuts were made in some existing services. As the economy fell, we reduced the budget accordingly. By the end of June, we had cut over 100 positions (in the last year, both vacant and filled, including privatized services like Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice). That’s a lot of local jobs and services and we’re still not down to where we will have to be to maintain a balanced budget when the state passes its budget. After we learn the extent to which the state will take local revenues, we’ll be able to adjust again and adopt a final budget. The news from Sacramento is not good. We anticipate a raid on your tax dollars that now go to Roads and other general fund departments, not to mention reductions in all the Health and Human Services departments.

The Library Department in District 3 alone took a huge hit. The Pinecrest and Mi-Wuk Village library branches have closed and it is only due to the commitment and generosity of community members that Mi-Wuk will re-open their building on a limited basis as a community center/private lending library for the next year. For now, the Tuolumne and Twain Harte libraries are safe. The WOW bookmobile’s time on the road has been cut and its regular driver’s position eliminated. We are looking into reinstating her ½ time as a result of interest from several service clubs in keeping that service going. Amazing! Our draft budget keeps Recreation programs functioning until the end of September. We’re figuring out how to keep youth centers open beyond then and reopen pools next summer. Talks are proceeding in Tuolumne and Twain Harte with community members and groups who are interested in helping that happen. That’s amazing too.

The Board is mindful of the priorities many of you expressed in my Listening Sessions: Public Safety and Roads. We haven’t cut a single filled Sheriff’s Deputy position and hopefully will not. Fire services are intact at last year’s level now, but as you know that isn’t saying a whole lot. Solving the Fire coverage issue is on our list of serious issues to address when we get the budget approved. Public Works’ Road budget is at risk to be raided by the state, perhaps by as much as $1.5 million a year. If that happens, the funds the state takes are the ones available to fix potholes and do snow plowing. Not good.

On the bright side, as the state is taking away money, the federal government made stimulus funds available (no matching dollar requirements) for us to purchase two new transit buses. These trolley buses, purchased with the federal government’s money, were looked at by some as a very frivolous expenditure in the present economy, but they were actually a better deal than regular buses. They cost slightly less than regular buses, cost the same to maintain, and will replace two of our aging fleet that needed to be retired. All that and tourists are supposed to like them better too! Ballet slippers again.

Incredibly, the state government at the time of writing, has not approved a budget. We’ve reduced the county budget significantly in anticipation, cutting whatever we can in advance and steeling ourselves for what is inevitably to come. From everything I have heard, “local government” will bear the burden of most of the cuts. I beg to differ. Local government will survive – it’s real people who will suffer. And that’s a pity.

Please call if you have questions or comments about the necessary budget cuts we will be making. You can contact me at 533-5525. I may not have a lot of good news for you, but if you’d like to meet with me in your community, my District Office Hours are:

August

  • Weds., Aug. 5, 2009, 10:00 – 11:30, Tuolumne Museum, Carter Street, Tuolumne
  • Weds., Aug. 12, 2009, 10:00 – 11:30, Twain Harte Community Service District, Twain Harte Drive, Twain Harte
  • Weds., Aug. 19, 2009, 1:00 – 2:30, Mi-Wuk Village Community Center and Private Lending Library, next to the Post Office

September

  • Weds., Sept. 2, 2009, 10: 00 – 11:30, Tuolumne Museum, Carter Street, Tuolumne
  • Weds., Sept. 9, 2009, 10:00 – 11:30, Twain Harte Community Service District, Twain Harte Drive, Twain Harte
  • Weds., Sept. 16, 2009, 1:00 – 2:30, Mi-Wuk Village Community Center and Private Lending Library, next to the Post Office

Like you the county is dancing in new ballet slippers, but still hungry. That’s just wrong.

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