Austerity wins, programs lose

Boys and Girls Club, Chico library hit by cuts in Butte County’s 2017-18 budget

Paul Hahn, Butte County’s chief administrative officer, said Tuesday (June 27), “We don’t have the resources to help everyone we want to.”

Paul Hahn, Butte County’s chief administrative officer, said Tuesday (June 27), “We don’t have the resources to help everyone we want to.”

Photo by Howard Hardee

For those who follow local politics, it’s a familiar story: In the recovery since the Great Recession, Butte County has found more stable financial footing—but the long-term outlook is alarming.

“We’ve been able to come back from those years of pain,” said Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer. “Yet, it seems like no matter how much progress we make, every year we get new roadblocks in our way.”

Hahn was addressing the Butte County Board of Supervisors during the panel’s budget session on Tuesday (June 27). He outlined how the county’s CalPERS pension obligations are projected to increase sharply over the next several years. Likewise, the county is expected to pay a greater share of In-Home Supportive Services—currently funded by the state—to the tune of millions of dollars. Costs associated with Cal Fire contracts and operating the new jail facility also represent challenges moving forward.

Spending will outstrip revenue starting next fiscal year, according to the county’s projections. If the underlying assumptions don’t change, the county will face a $4.7 million general fund deficit by fiscal year 2021-22.

“As a result, the budget being presented to you today is pretty austere in its recommendations,” Hahn said.

Indeed, the $536.5 million 2017-18 budget represents a 0.2 percent decrease from last year. It eliminates 86 positions, including a total of 62 from the departments of Employment and Social Services and Behavioral Health. The vast majority of those positions are allocated but unfilled, Hahn said, adding that a handful of employees may lose their jobs.

The budget provides $580,000 to operate rural fire stations in Stirling City, Jarbo Gap and Berry Creek. During a meeting on April 25, Hahn recommended closing the so-called Amador stations during the off-season, from November to May, but the supervisors voted to keep the three stations open year-round. (About a month later, they voted to close Butte County Fire Station 42 in north Chico.)

As Hahn explained to the CN&R following the meeting, funding the Amador stations created “a hole in the budget” that was filled partially at the expense of community programs such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley and the Chico branch of the Butte County Public Library.

The Boys and Girls Club had a contract with the county’s probation department for $240,000 to support youth crime-prevention and intervention efforts. The proposed 2017-18 budget cut that funding by $186,000, which likely would result in layoffs of 10 staff members throughout the county, said Rashell Brobst, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club. More critically, about 200 youth would be turned away from the organization’s after-school programs.

“We get the throwaway kids that nobody wants,” she told the supervisors. “We get the kids who are kicked out of every single program and we work with them. We never, ever expel a child. … Nobody else does what we do.”

Former Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty argued that the youth programs produce law-abiding citizens. “There is no better crime prevention program on the planet,” he said.

Steven Bordin, the county’s chief probation officer, explained that his department must direct its limited resources toward present-day criminals.

“Right now, I have almost 2,400 adult felons on probation that I have to supervise,” he said. “If I do not supervise them properly, they have a 45 percent recidivism rate. I’m asking you, please, follow [Hahn’s] recommendations and allow me to come back to you in 60 days with an alternative to mitigate this reduction to the Boys and Girls Club.”

District 3 Supervisor Maureen Kirk made a motion to provide the probation department with $45,000 of contingency funds to support the Boys and Girls Club for a few months. That failed by a 2-2 vote. (District 5 Supervisor Doug Teeter recused himself from the discussion because his wife’s business contracts with the Boys and Girls Club.)

District 1 Supervisor Bill Connelly countered with a motion to make the cut and direct Bordin to draft a proposal for restructuring the county’s relationship with the nonprofit organization. That passed unanimously.

“I’ll say ‘aye,’ but I don’t like it,” Kirk said.

Next on the chopping block was the Chico library. As proposed, the budget cut $60,000 from the library, which would force it to close on Mondays. Larry Wahl made a motion to preserve the library’s hours as well as staffing at Fire Station 42 in north Chico, which drew a second from Kirk.

Their colleagues balked at “spending money we don’t have,” as District 4 Supervisor Steve Lambert put it. The motion failed by a 3-to-2 vote.

Lambert made a motion to pass the 2017-18 budget as recommended. That passed 3-2, with Chico’s Wahl and Kirk opposing.