In order to understand the effect of the state budget on the county budget, it is perhaps helpful to explain a little about the relationship between the state and counties in general. A county is a subdivision of the state and is vested to provide for the health and welfare of the people within its borders. The state Legislature may delegate to counties any of the functions which belong to the state itself and can take back to itself and resume any functions which it has delegated to counties.
For example, in 1982, the Legislature delegated responsibility for medically indigent adults to counties, and the county now operates the MediCruz program. In 1991, the state transferred community mental health to counties, with the goal of providing less expensive, higher-quality care closer to home. When responsibilities are transferred from the state to counties, the state must provide sufficient funding to support the programs, but this support does not always remain sufficient over time.
In the 2011-12 state budget, significant new public safety responsibilities will be delegated to counties in an effort to provide services more efficiently and at less cost. The biggest change for Santa Cruz County will be that lower-level offenders and parole violators will serve their sentences locally, rather than in state prisons. In addition, the county will assume responsibility for supervising adult parolees when they have completed their sentences.
The probation department, the sheriff’s office and the courts are working very closely together in a Community Corrections Partnership to develop a plan for how best to assume these new responsibilities. The partnership includes County Mental Health, the Human Services Department and the County Drug and Alcohol Program, as well as community based organizations. Santa Cruz County has an excellent track record of innovative criminal justice programs that have successfully reduced the incarceration rate of juveniles while protecting public safety. We will be able to utilize many of these same strategies with adult offenders and parolees and are well placed to turn these challenges into opportunities.
Other responsibilities being shifted from the state to the county include prevention, treatment and recovery services for alcohol and drug abuse, child welfare services and adult protective services. These programs have been operated by the county under state oversight and will now be operated directly by the county. This should allow the county greater flexibility to determine the appropriate levels of service and priority for our own community.
The 2011-12 state budget includes a $4 billion assumption of higher revenues, backed by $2.5 billion in “trigger” cuts in case some or none of that money materializes. If revenues fall below projections, significant additional reductions will be enacted, taking from in-home supportive services, child care, Medi-Cal, and vertical prosecution grants, among others.
In addition to these cuts to county-run programs, if revenues do not reach anticipated levels, the state will also impose additional cuts to the University of California, the California State Universities, community colleges and the Department of Developmental Disabilities. If none or very little of the revenue appears, additional cuts will be made to K-12 schools, probably shortening the school year to 168 days. These cuts and policy changes will be devastating to the education system that we count on.
At the local level, the board adopted a balanced county budget June 30. In some years, especially when the state budget was not adopted until August or September, the county was forced to make significant midyear reductions because of unforeseen changes. Fortunately, this year, the county accurately anticipated the Legislature’s final actions, and further cuts will not be necessary to maintain the county’s balanced budget.
As part of the process of balancing the budget this year, the county approached our various labor partners to discuss possible ways of lowering overall county costs while providing employees with appropriate and competitive salaries and benefits. SEIU, representing the largest group of employees, agreed to increase employees’ furloughs by another three days and to implement a two-tiered retirement system. These changes were agreed to by all employee representation units, and their assistance and cooperation are greatly appreciated during these difficult financial times. It is anticipated that the pension changes across all bargaining units will save more than $12 million over the next decade.
Most county services are provided across all five supervisorial districts, but the county will be working this year to repair storm damage to various roads in the 5th District. In addition, the county is working with Cal EMA to appeal the federal government’s initial decision not to provide FEMA funds for the repair of Nelson Road and other roads damaged by the spring storms of 2011. We are hopeful that the appeal will be successful and repairs can be initiated in a timely manner.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone represents the 5th District, which includes San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley.