Public health supporters plead with county supervisors to continue funding
BY AMY ASMAN
On June 9, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors began its first day
of county budget hearings with an impassioned volley of pleas from mental health and smoking secession program supporters to continue funding a long list of local services.
The county recently released a report detailing the proposed budget cuts to several social services department programs--including mental health and other health-related programs--for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Some of the proposed cuts include completely eliminating funding for many mental health programs, such as the Santa Barbara Mental Health Association the Transitions Mental Health Association, which runs Growing Grounds in Santa Maria and work training programs for both organizations.
The proposed cuts are meant to balance the county's suffering fiscal budget, but many public health supporters are saying that the "draconian cuts" are too severe and could lead to more pressing problems in the future.
"I find it shocking and very short sighted that the county wants to cut these programs," Transitions Mental Health Association's executive director, Jill Bolster-White, said.
"As a person with experience in administration, I think it's important to look at the bigger picture," Bolster-White explained. "Scale down projects rather than close them.... Or make 10 percent cuts across the board for all departments."
At the budget hearing, mental health consumers, family members, and mental health professionals offered their personal stories, stressing the importance of continuing services to the estimated 2,000-plus people in the county with mental health issues.
Supporters of the county's smoking secession program stressed the need for county services while combating the effects of smoking.
The two groups were at odds over proposals to use some of the county's state tobacco settlement money to fund mental health services.
"That money is meant to prevent smoking. It belongs to us," one smoking secession program supporter said during public comment.
However, many people said that both of the programs are essential in improving the quality of patients' lives. Plus, it was estimated that roughly 80 percent of people who take part in the smoking secession program also use mental health services.
"I don't think I'd want to make choices between two effective programs," Bolster-White said, adding that she wants to use endowment funds from the tobacco settlement rather than dip into funds designated for anti-smoking programs.
In order to more thoroughly address the county's budget cuts, many public health supporters, including Bolster-White, suggested that the board postpone approving a final budget so that alternative funding can be more properly assessed.
Other county programs on the chopping block include HIV/AIDS prevention and education and geriatric services.
As of press time, the Board of Supervisors planned to continue reviewing the proposed budget cuts on June 11. The board is scheduled to make a final decision on June 13.
For more information about the budget hearings, visit www.countyofsb.org.
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