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Legislators Asked to Restore County Youth Development Funds

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Legislators Asked to Restore County Youth Development Funds

Thursday, October 7, 2010
In their latest budget review session, Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee were urged to consider the potential effects of cutting the County's contribution to support municipal youth development programs. In her final budget presentation in 30 years as Youth Services Director, Nancy Zahler cautioned the reduction would dismantle an important intermunicipal collaboration serving county youth and rescind a County policy commitment made by the legislature more than two decades ago.

The 2011 Tentative Budget calls for cutting more than a quarter-million dollars in matching County funds for municipal youth programs, since pressing claims of mandated and uncontrollable costs greatly limit the County's capacity to raise property taxes on behalf of other jurisdictions. As part of the budget, the County's contribution to the Community and Career Apprenticeship program is also reduced by half.

Zahler noted youth programs, through prevention, save money by diverting youth from more expensive services, such as foster care and detention. She said that the cuts would mean that more than 2,300 youth throughout the County will lose the opportunity to grow, build skills, and have positive contact with adults through the youth development and apprenticeship programs, and that at least 16 full- and part-time staff who deliver those programs by contract with Cooperative Extension, will lose their jobs. Un-served youth, she said, will be home alone, unsupervised, and more likely to be involved in crime and drug use.

Cooperative Extension, which also presented its budget, indicated the Youth Services cuts are part of a more that $390,000 reduction in program funding, contracts, and other reductions tied to County funding--'a 34% reduction in local dollar spending. Director Ken Schlather likened the youth programs to "an insurance package" to prevent risky behavior, with towns paying a significant share of the premium. As one of its over target requests, Cooperative Extension seeks restoration of $27,000 to preserve a senior staff position slated to be cut. Schlather said it is now nearly impossible to cut anything from his agency's programs, other than staff.

Among five other programs presenting their budgets was the Department of Mental Health Services, which eliminated two-and-a-half positions to meet the County's 6.9% target reduction. The department seeks nearly $87,000 in over target funding, not recommended by the County Administrator, to restore the position of Supervising Psychologist, to provide supervision for children's services and to add to clinical supervision reduced over the past five years. Should the funding not be restored, the department cautions internal reorganization may be necessary that could lead to layoff of two additional staff positions. In response to Legislators' questions, staff indicated it would be feasible to fund the psychiatrist position at less than full-time.

The Expanded Budget Committee resumes its deliberations Tuesday, October 12.