Local agencies chip in where state cut back | SummitDaily.com

Local agencies chip in where state cut back

by Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – After Gov. Bill Owens slashed the state’s 2002-2003 budget last month, it didn’t take long for agencies around Colorado to feel the pinch.

Owens trimmed $46 million from the state budget, and agencies that serve children were some of the hardest hit in Summit County. But one project will continue, thanks to the generosity of other Summit County groups and the belief that the project is not only beneficial, but necessary.

“I went to the community stakeholder group that’s helping steer the project and had them rate its importance – the average was about nine on a scale of 10,” said project coordinator Susan Roberston.

The community stakeholder group includes service providers from the county’s Youth and Family Services and nursing departments, law enforcement, education professionals and nonprofits concerned with child development and welfare. The project appeals to them, Robertson said, because its goal is improving the delivery of services for children in Summit County, whether through centralizing programs in one agency to eliminate redundancy, increasing services by cutting out administrative costs or identifying needs that aren’t yet being met.

The Prevention Pilot Project was created by the Legislature in 2000; Summit’s is one of seven around Colorado. The project budget originally laid out plans for two years.

“We got a month out of it, and then the governor cut the funding,” Roberston said.

To develop the state’s budget, the Legislature had to account for a $700 million revenue shortfall. In May, lawmakers finalized a balanced budget that included a 7 percent increase in spending (meaning taxpayers’ surplus and refunds would be used to make up for the shortfall). But when Gov. Owens received the budget, he cut $46 million from spending, including line-item vetoes of $2.9 million for affordable housing, $7 million for youth services and other money for arts and education.

In Summit County, those cuts translated into losses of $22,000 for the district attorney’s juvenile diversion program, $8,000 for a county child-care licensing officer and $75,000 for the prevention pilot and an infant service program.

“And on top of that, about a third of the money for the prevention pilot was federal money, and when we asked about it, the state said they’d reallocated it since they’d cut the other two-thirds,” Roberston said.

Robertson and co-coordinator Gini Bradley set to work re-writing a plan for the program to get by on the bare minimum until December. Agency directors took a magnifying glass to their budgets and came up with the money to fund the plan. The Family and Intercultural Resource Center dedicated $2,000 to the project. Colorado West Mental Health chipped in $1,000. Summit County Youth and Family Services contributed $1,000 and also found another $4,586 to add after finding an unused budget item. And, the Summit Prevention Alliance picked up the lion’s share by supplying $6,000 from a federal grant.

“There are over 200 non-profits in Summit County, and it’s time we start melding some of them,” said Kristy Price, director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. “That way, we can maintain our level of programming. I’m fearful the cuts are going to continue to come, and people will be forced to start cutting valuable services.”

Breckenridge Police Chief Rick Holman sits on the stakeholder group, along with Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales and Silverthorne Police Chief John Patterson. Holman said prevention projects are important for law enforcement because more positive interaction with young children equates to less negative interaction when they’re older.

“It helps build relationships,” Holman said. “But from a funding standpoint, when you’re involved in all these different things, we’re all trying to go for the same piece of money. It’s dwindling at the state level, and the more we can reduce that competition, the better we’ll fare.”

Robertson said she is developing a database of the services currently being offered and needs that aren’t being met. She said she hopes to form a community-wide board to oversee the entire range of prevention and treatment services for youth by December.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.

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