Cuts ahead for those already on the brink

County Chief Administrative Officer Paul McIntosh sounded a discomfiting alarm Tuesday, warning that state and local budget conflicts were about to trickle down to some of the county’s neediest residents.

While no specifics were made available, McIntosh said the county would soon be forced to make some tough decisions as to how—or, in some cases, whether—it could continue to provide social services to children and adults with mental, social and behavioral problems.

In a press release announcing a community forum to find possible solutions to the problem, McIntosh stated that the county was preparing for “significant reductions in health and social services,” and that, “At a minimum, the county expects to serve at least 1,500 less persons in our community.” The announcement sent shock waves through the mental-health community, which in the past has accused the county of failing to properly serve a vulnerable population.

“The kind of cuts they’re talking about are going to leave a lot of sick people on the streets,” said Ken Fleming, director of Sacramento Valley Family Services, which contracts with the county to provide group home, foster care and other services. “Every kid we see meets medical necessity. Where are these people going to go?”

At Tuesday’s press conference, McIntosh blamed the state’s overly complex and outrageously state-weighted budget formulas for the funding shortfall that brought on the potential cuts.

“This is not unique to Butte County,” he said. “We have one segment of the state government that doesn’t want to raise taxes and another segment that doesn’t want to cut programs. Counties are basically at the mercy of the state. We’re going to see reduced services, and we shouldn’t have to do that. We would hope that the state would take steps to correct the relationship between state and local government.”

McIntosh also noted that the county’s Behavioral Health Department had grown 70 percent in the past five years, a rate that allowed more programs to exist but might not be sustainable in light of the state’s current fiscal meltdown.

Caregivers disputed the figures, saying that the county was giving up on an opportunity to receive free state and federal money in exchange for providing the kind of preventative programs that save even more county dollars in the long run.

“One dollar’s worth of mental-health money can save $22 in other services down the road,” said George Siler, director of Youth for Change, another service provider that contracts with the county. Siler warned the cuts would lead to “more hospitalizations, more suicides, probation and the criminal-justice system will be impacted, more kids will go into foster care—just major, long-term impacts.

“It’s especially hard for the families that had to fight all these years to get the funding for the programs they need, only to get the rug pulled out from under them.”

The county will host a public forum to solicit ideas from the community as to how programs could be changed, made more efficient or cut. The forum takes place Tuesday, July 29, 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the Chico Elks Lodge, 1705 Manzanita Ave.