By Taylor Sisk
Cuts made to the recently passed state budget to close a nearly $2.5 billion shortfall will take a toll on Orange County residents. Social services will suffer, said County Manager Frank Clifton, as will public health services and the criminal justice system.
â€œThe biggest impact will be in social services,â€ Clifton said on Tuesday.
Among the programs the Orange County Department of Social Services offers are child-protection services and child-care subsidies, employment services and emergency financial assistance and services for seniors and people with disabilities.
Clifton listed child-care subsidies, employment assistance and transportation services as being programs that would likely be curtailed.
In health services, health screenings might be harder to schedule. Criminal-justice programs that face elimination include a drug-treatment program that allows those with minor offenses who follow given guidelines to avoid jail time.
â€œWe know these programs work,â€ Clifton said of all of the above. â€œIn any of them, you can always gain efficiencies. But that means fewer services.â€
In most cases, Clifton said, county residents donâ€™t know where funding for a particular program comes from, just that the service exists. But when the state no longer provides funding for that program, â€œit all reflects back on the county.â€
â€œWe get into a difficult situation and have to make difficult choices,â€ he said. â€œWe just have to deal with it.â€
Moreover, he added, when the state cuts funding for a program, it generally forever becomes a county program. â€œThe stateâ€™s not going to pick it back up.â€
â€œI believe we will continue to see cuts in state support for state-mandated programs,â€ said Steve Yuhasz, vice chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. â€œThe toughest decisions will be which of these cuts we will be able to offset with local funds andÂ which programsÂ we will have to abandon.â€
Yuhasz cited child-care subsidies as being among â€œvital programs which have suffered as a result of state funding reductions and which the county has partially funded.â€
Cuts to public health funding, he said, affect not only the ability to provide immediate services to underserved populations, but â€œhave a negative affect on our ability to respond to public health emergencies.â€
â€œPlay this against a backdrop of continuing unemployment, cuts in UNC system funding, and UNC-Chapel Hill in particular, andÂ the inability of people toÂ afford higher property taxes, and you see the dilemma facing the [board of commissioners],â€ Yuhasz said.
Many programs to which Orange County residents have grown accustomed are relatively new, and now, Clifton said, â€œwe may have to adjust.â€
â€œOrange County has been and wants to continue to be a state leader in innovation, protection of the environment, great schools and support for safety-net programs,â€ Yuhasz said.
But, he continued, â€œBalancing competing interests is always difficult â€“ trying to balance them while taking on former state responsibilities may be impossible.â€
This is just the beginning of a process, Clifton warns, from the federal level down, to downscale publicly funded programs.
â€œWhen the federal cuts come, then weâ€™re going to see some dramatic changes,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s going to trickle down â€¦ especially in human services.â€
â€œItâ€™s big dollars,â€ Clifton said of those federal budget cuts.
â€œPeople need to get used to this.â€
In upcoming issues of The Citizen, we will be taking more detailed looks at the real and potential effects to Orange County residents of state and federal budget cuts.