Sonoma County supervisors call for tax extensions
Published: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:28 p.m.
Sonoma County supervisors heard their first detailed report Tuesday on how county services might be impacted by Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to fix California's $26.6 billion budget deficit.
Administrators detailed two possible scenarios.
The one proposed by Brown and endorsed by supervisors Tuesday would put scores of new low-level offenders in county jails each year, change juvenile detention operations and give counties more oversight of health and human service programs. The latter programs already face millions in cuts as part of a budget package approved by legislators last week.
“I don't really think there's another option for us,” said Supervisor Valerie Brown.
That assessment came after administrators detailed the other scenario — what would happen if voters do not approve five-year extensions of taxes on vehicles, income and sales in a June special election, or if because of Republican opposition to that election, voters never have a say on the extensions at all.
In that case, Brown has said, he would be forced to balance the budget on cuts alone, though he hinted this week he might find a way to put the issue on the November ballot. The result of his more dire budget-slashing threat to Sonoma County would be an additional $30 million to $60 million in funding reductions, mostly across health and human service programs, officials said.
Salaries for in-home support workers tending to the sick and elderly would be scaled back to minimum wage, adult protective and foster care transitional housing programs ended and funding for community policing and jail booking programs put in jeopardy.
Board Chairman Efren Carrillo called that alternative “calamitous.”
“The potential impacts are real and they are devastating,” he said.
For two hours, supervisors and county department heads discussed the range of impacts foreseen under both proposals. Already, the county faces between $30 million to $60 million in cuts, mostly to health and human service programs, plus a multi-year, permanent state takeaway of $15 million in early childhood education funds as part of budget legislation approved last week, county managers said.
Other parts of Gov. Brown's realignment deal include:
-- A shift of $17 million for mental health and substance abuse programs. About $4.6 million in matching federal funds would be lost.
-- A shift of $26 million in cash-aid, foster care and adult protective services, among other aid programs. For CalWORKS, the cash-aid program, the county's share of payments to recipients is set to rise by 40 percent, from $440,000 to $6.7 million.
The fiscal impact of the jail and juvenile justice changes were less clear, officials said. The county's main-jail population, currently at 65 to 70 percent capacity, could be pushed to or over 85 percent, resulting in less flexibility for jail managers, sheriff's officials said.
If stays for the majority of the new inmates are six months or more, the state's funding — $10,000 per-inmate, per-year, county officials said — might not be enough to cover the ensuing probation period, officials said.
"This may work at the county level if it's properly funded,” said Bob Ochs, chief probation officer. “Given what I know so far, I'm not sure that it is.”
Other cuts were detailed for redevelopment programs, which the governor has proposed to ax. The county redevelopment projects could lose $6 million in annual property tax funding — Brown wants that money to go to schools and the county coffers — while the state may reclaim millions more in redevelopment funds the county rushed to allocate this year.
Supervisors reacted to each new detail with frustration. At times they were incredulous.
“Wow,” Supervisor Mike McGuire said at one point. “We're in tough days now. But tougher days are ahead.”
Supervisors signed off, tentatively, on the realignment package because they said the other option — doubling the cuts without any future safeguards — would be crippling.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who has led the defense of mental health and in-home care programs, said “it makes me cringe” to think what would happen if the governor's package doesn't pass.
“The most vulnerable are far more at risk if that doesn't occur,” she said.
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