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Proposed state funding cuts would have wide-ranging effect on county

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County officials finally have a detailed take on what the direct impact of state-level budget cuts will be on county programs, and the picture is not pretty.


As of now, fiscal slashing at the Capitol will amount to roughly one-third of the budget reductions that the county will have to make – about $7 million. County Judge Sam Biscoe asked Travis planning and budget staff if there was any good news.  “It’s only $7 million and not $14 (million),” replied Budget Manager Leroy Nellis.


Cuts suggested thus far would have a wide-ranging and dramatic effect on county programs. Planning and Budget Analyst Katie Petersen Gipson offered a few highlights for the court in a memo.


“Grants to local probation departments have been severely cut – 20.7percent for Adult Probation and 11.3 percent for Juvenile probation,” she wrote. “The county’s portion on the mixed beverage tax has gone down 22.5 percent, which could lead to a $1,436,777 reduction in general fund revenue. Two programs, the Low Income Vehicle Repair Assistance, Retrofit and Accelerated Replacement program and the Sheriff’s Auto Theft Task Force have been eliminated completely. The office of Governor, Criminal Justice Division grants went down 55 percent. The impact on the grant programs is not yet known, as to whether the programs will be cut completely, (but) we will receive less and require larger cash matches, or the grants will become significantly more competitive.”


Gipson estimated the county loss associated with the probation cuts to be just over $3 million. She put the criminal justice grants loss at $452,471.


She went on to give more attention to the criminal justice and mental health worlds. “Further reductions in (those) systems may have an impact on our jail population if state jail beds and mental health beds are less available,” she wrote. “Additionally, cuts in (probation) staff may cause a Judge to sentence fewer defendants to probation.”  


Those cuts and the loss of general fund revenue thanks to cuts in the mixed beverage tax reimbursements represent the two largest negative hits for the county. In all, 12 departments would be effected by state reductions.


Other notable subtractions could include $102,849 (or 55 percent) from the Family Drug Court program, $276,769 (or 28.1 percent) from CAPCOG’s 911 Services program, and $241,455 (of $799,819) from Starflight Medicaid reimbursements.


Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt was blunt in her assessment of the state cuts. “What’s happening at the state level is not a reduction in taxes, it’s simply a shifting of burden to the local level,” she said.


Still, Eckhardt was able to find some positivity in it all. “Finding collaboration internal to Travis County as well as finding collaboration across local governmental entities and other service providers to achieve a higher degree of efficiency,” she said. ”That, I think, is the silver lining.”

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