Budget talks continued Wednesday as Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services walked the Board of Supervisors through the budget numbers it’s facing in the coming year.
The department’s total budget is $70 million, with only $2.3 million coming from the county’s General Fund. Its cuts aren’t as drastic as others because a large portion of the department’s funding comes through the Mental Health Services Act, or Proposition 63, a 1 percent income tax on people whose income is more than $1 million annually.
ADMHS Director Ann Detrick said that 35 percent of the department’s staff is funded by MHSA dollars, resulting in “many layoffs being prevented.”
The department has 268 full-time positions, a number that is basically the same from last year, but a shift of staff from children’s mental health and alcohol and drug staff to other areas could occur.
MHSA has offset the decline in the department’s core funding, Detrick said, but challenges are ahead, particularly for adult programs in the mental health department.
“We’re staying pretty level, but it’s not easy and we do have challenges,” Detrick told the supervisors.
Increased caseloads for childhood clinicians and the loss of community treatment for indigent clients with mental illness could all result from cuts this year. A reduction in substance abuse services also is expected.
The cuts come at a time when the department is serving more patients than ever. This year, the department expects to see 2,800 children and adolescents with serious emotional issues, 5.700 adults with mental illness and 4,000 people with alcohol and drug needs.
As a result of increasing costs, the department made a policy decision in 2010 to reduce the provision of mental health services to indigent people who don’t have a serious mental illness. And 450 patients were whittled down to 128 because they weren’t determined to be seriously mentally ill or could be seen by public health and primary care providers.
Nineteen speakers lined up for public comment at Wednesday’s meeting, with most of them expressing concern about the elimination of Pro Pay, a system covered by the tax assessor’s budget that helps pay the bills of mentally ill patients who are unable to manage their personal finances.
Pablo Romero of Families ACT! said Pro Pay may look expendable but isn’t. He compared the removal of the program limits to giving his children access to money without any expectations.
“The first week, the house would be full of LEGOs, DVDs and shopping bags,” he said, adding that with the guidelines of Pro Pay, people would be able to spend money on whatever they wanted to, even things that could be dangerous to them.
Landlord Roxanne McGregor said she manages two housing units that house 26 mentally ill patients.
“They just don’t have the necessary means to budget their money,” she said.
The program allows landlords such as McGregor to keep housing open to mentally ill patients because they have the confidence they’ll be paid, she said.
Cuts to eliminate $51,000 to help pay for the homeless warming shelters may also go through as Public Health sheds weight from its budget, which also raised concern among speakers.
County supervisors are expected to deliberate their budget decisions on Friday.