posted on January 03, 2012 15:22
The New Year isn't so "happy" for some Genesee County service agencies, plagued by a 5-percent budget cut in the new county spending plan for 2012.
A number of agencies are suffering short-staffing and rolling back services, after initially expressing worry back in September and October 2011. That was when agency administrators began seeing the reailty of the across-the-board budget cut proposed by County Manager Jay Gsell and the Genesee County Legislature.
WBTA News spoke with two such agencies in October: the Office for the Aging (OFTA), and the Highway Department. Administrators for both predicted dark days ahead under the ominous cloud of budget cuts.
For example, OFTA Director Pamela Whitmore said her department would take $134,000 in cuts in 2012, when coupling the county reduction with reductions in state and federal grants. Since then, she has rolled back in-home care, social programs, staffing, and most notably the Meals on Wheels program, which now operates on a three-day-a-week delivery schedule instead of the former five days.
The move saves $20,000, but it ultimately hurts the local senior population.
"The friendly visit of someone coming to the door and checking on the well-being of individuals is lost on Wednesday and Friday," Whitmore says. Additionally, one full-time nutritionist has been eliminated, and the program is also operating with one-less driver/scheduler.
"What you don't see is additional costs for health insurance and pension...those also had to be backed out of our budget (due to the other cuts)," Whitmore said, calling them 'invisible cuts' that also hurt the OFTA.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum: the County Highway Department is operating with a budget $80,000 greater than last year's, suffering no cuts in any sector. Highway Superintendent Tim Hens explains that he got a pass on the 5-percent cut proposal, because of his systematic staff cuts and cost-reductions over the last 10 years.
"I was not prepared to present a budget with a 5-percent cut, as it would have asked us to reduce our staffing – we're already at a bare minimum anyway," Hens says. "And faced with the choice of not plowing roads, or letting some bridges be closed...practicality kind of steps to the forefront."
Hens also touts his department's nearly 8-percent budget cut last year. However, even last year's cut still came in under the county-proposed 10-percent cut at that time.
Nevertheless, County Manager Jay Gsell echoed Hen's sentiment.
"By virtue of the number of position cuts that Tim has instituted – approximately 20 over the past 10 years – as well as economies they've taken in materials, supplies, fuel costs...we didn't think it was prudent at this time to impose a unilateral cut," Gsell said.
Other agencies enjoying zero cuts and, in some cases, bigger budgets include the County Nursing Home and the County Sheriff's Department. Gsell says a number of small departments such as Weights & Measures (one-man staff) were also spared a budget cut.
Overall, Gsell calls the 5-percent across-the-board budget cut a success for 2012, keeping Genesee County within the guidelines of a tough 2-percent state property tax cap, and allowing county legislators to only raise county property taxes by 6-cents per thousand assessed valuation.
But for Whitmore, that doesn't make things any easier on her department.
"Overall, it impacts what we can provide for services," she says. "It's been a real challenge."