County cuts $688,000 from funding to social services nonprofits

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Seniors’ Resource Center, Jeffco Center for Mental Health, Family Tree take big hits

By Ramsey Scott

Three Jeffco nonprofits are facing sizable cuts in funding due to tightened budgets at the county, state and federal levels.

In its 2013 budget, Jefferson County cut $688,000 from the amount it provides to Family Tree, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and the Seniors’Resource Center.

The Seniors’ Resource Center, which had its county contribution cut by $400,000, is closing its Southwest Plaza adult day center, which opened in 2011, on Jan. 13. That center served on average 30 seniors a day. The four staff members there are being laid off, said John Zabawa, SRC president.

Along with closing the southwest adult day center, Zabawa said the SRC will have to cut back on many of its services and will most likely have to limit how many seniors it serves who pay with Medicaid.

Part of the funds the county cut helped subsidize patients with Medicaid. The government program pays providers only a set amount for services, which doesn't completely cover the SRC’s costs.

Zabawa said about 40 percent of the seniors the center serves pay with Medicaid. Because of the cuts, the center will most likely not take on additional Medicaid payers and not fill empty positions as they open up.

“We have limited unrestricted money,” Zabawa said. “It can only stretch so far.”

Zabawa said the cutback’s timing was very difficult, as he was informed just before the budget was approved by Jeffco commissioners on Dec. 4.

“I think the challenges is learning about this at the eleventh hour after we pretty much made our 2013 budget under the assumption that we were going to be receiving level funding based on 2012,” Zabawa said.

The cuts are painful for the organizations and were also painful to make, said Lynn Johnson, director of the Jeffco Human Services Division. Her department had its funding from the federal, state and county governments cut by $2.4 million.

Family Tree provides services and shelter to families and youths to overcome child abuse, domestic violence and homelessness. The Jeffco Center for Mental Health provides subsidized treatment to county residents in need, including seniors.

“I lose sleep at night over this,” Johnson said. “People in these hard times need these services more than ever, but I also understand you don’t print dollars.”

Johnson said the cuts weren't in the proposed budget, but Jeffco discovered that revenues were going to be lower than expected.

“It was a tough year for making decisions in the county,”Johnson said.

Human Services —which Johnson said is required by law to provide certain services — is still determining how to cut an additional $1.69 million from its budget. She said the division has already eliminated capital projects for 2013.

The impending cuts drew a large group of supporters of the nonprofits to the Dec. 18 county commissioners meeting. Speaker after speaker addressed Commissioners Don Rosier and Faye Griffin about why they were opposed to the cuts. Commissioner John Odom was absent during his last meeting as a commissioner; he lost his bid for another term to Democratic challenger Casey Tighe in the November election.

State Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Jeffco, also addressed the commissioners.

“In the last week I've received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people wondering why we would consider making these types of cuts during such hard times for residents,” Schafer said.

“It just doesn't make sense to our average citizens, our constituents, yours and mine, that we're considering these difficult cuts for people who are living with disorders and who are living on the edge,”she said.

Schafer asked the commissioners why they had included in their budget $700,000 for another highway study on a western beltway segment for the Denver area. She said she spoke with both Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan and Wheat Ridge Mayor Jerry DiTullio, who both were opposed to what they said was an unnecessary study, and she asked the commissioners to reconsider the cuts.

Rosier disagreed that the study is unnecessary and said the funds were designated five years before.

“Let me tell you, it's not a study,” he said. “If you look at what's being prepared, it's taking plans put together by the C-470 Coalition, what Golden just spent thousands of dollars doing updating their study referred to as the Golden Plan …looking at the Jefferson Parkway and looking at the Northwest Parkway and putting that together. Why? Because CDOT just rolled out what they call the RAMP plan.”

The Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, which the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Dec. 10, is a five-year plan that changes CDOT’s policy requiring all funding to be in place before a project can be started.

The policy change reportedly will give CDOT a chance to raise up to $300 million through private partnerships and federal funds.

Rosier said during the meeting that it's a chance to bring more than $1 billion in construction from CDOT, federal funds and public-private partnerships into Jeffco.

Yet Schafer remained skeptical. 

“I don't hear any guarantee that the $700,000 they're spending on a study or a solution, that's going to bring us a billion dollars,”Schafer said. “There's a better solution.”

Rosier said he sympathized with the nonprofits.

“No one here is saying these services being provided aren't needed,” Rosier said, while adding that the county had to make tough decisions to balance its budget.

Supporters of the nonprofits suggested raising the county mill levy from its current level.

Rosier spoke out against that idea, saying it didn't make sense to raise taxes on homeowners, especially seniors who are already struggling.

Commissioner-elect Casey Tighe, who attended the meeting as a spectator, wouldn't speak specifically to the cuts but said the commissioners should consider raising the mill levy from its current level when property values are down.

“When property values go down, money you get from a stagnant mill levy also goes down,” Tighe said. “The question is, if you raise the mill levy and it's revenue neutral, is it a tax increase?”

If the mill levy were raised to compensate for the drop in property value, taxes for homeowners would remain the same as the year before, Tighe said.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.comor 303-933-2233, ext. 22.