Agencies brace for further cuts

State Legislature looks to trim budget

With a forecasted $850 million in state cuts looming, local agency directors are keeping close watch on this year's legislative session to see how big of a slice is taken out of their piece of the pie in coming months.

Marie Peer, director of Moffat County Social Services, whose office was hit by a $30,000 cut in June, is anticipating more shortfalls.

Everything purchased for the office is made frugally, including pens and paper, she said.

"We're really cutting back on what we spend," she said. "Anything frivolous we're not buying."

Pat Tessmer, director of the local Advocates Crisis Support Services, attended candidate forums last fall urging those running to limit the amount of cuts made to her agency.

She said she wasn't sure what to expect.

"If they cut everybody across the board we'll get dinged somehow," she said. "We'll see what happens when they get started. We could get real concerned real fast."

Barb Seed, program director for Craig Mental Health, said she anticipated a 12 percent reduction to Colorado West, the 10 county agency of which Craig Mental Health is a member. Those who come to the office with less severe mental health concerns, and are unable to pay, might not get help.

"We may have to refuse services to some," Seed said. "We have never had to do that in 30 years."

The Craig office already operates with a tight staff so Seed said she did not think cutbacks would be made in staffing.

But how they do business will change, she said.

One example is shorter interventions with people, she said.

Cutbacks in the mental health field impact the community more than one might expect, Seed said.

"The way it impacts everyone is say you have people suffering from depression," she said. "The symptoms might get worse to where that person can't go to work, and a mom can't take care of her children."

Undetected depression can escalate and lead to severe episodes, she said.

The ramifications of undetected mental health problems will hit taxpayers' pocketbooks later on, she said.

"There are significant impacts to the community when funding for mental health is reduced," she said.

Marie Peer agreed with Seed in saying the assistance social services provides now saves the community money in the long run, whether it be legal or health problems that are prevented.

"The programs this department administers saves human kind and money down the road by helping people be successful and productive later on," she said. "But cutting programs now, how does that impact the future?"

Because the agency is still reeling from previous cutbacks and an increased need for programs, services such as the day treatment program, which aides children having difficulty in school, already have been cut back, Peer said.

Another agency worried about possible cuts is the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Executive Director Sue Birch said last fall that five positions already had been cut from the agency because of state and federal budget cuts.

Several people were on waiting lists because of a staff shortage, she had said. She said she had heard rumblings of another 10 percent cut to the budget this session.

"We can survive as is -- but if we keep getting these cuts we will have to close our doors in two to three years," she told the Moffat County commissioners in September.

Tessmer said she attended candidate forums last fall because she wanted to stress the importance of the $400,000 in general fund dollars that goes to domestic violence support services statewide every year.

"I wanted to make sure they would fight to keep that money available," she said.

In interviews with the Craig Daily Press last week, state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, were not specific on where they thought cutbacks had to be made, but both agreed on certain areas that should not be cut, such as education.

The 64th Colorado General Assembly starts Thursday.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.