‘Good’ programs caught in PT budget squeeze

PORT TOWNSEND — Jean Baldwin views the city’s decision to take money from a county drug and alcohol program and give it to a new youth mentoring effort intended to replace Big Brothers Big Sisters as sleight of hand.

“It’s taking from one good program and giving it to another good program,” said Baldwin, director of Jefferson County Public Health.

“They are making the decision of giving to St. Nick or Santa Claus.

“I’m all for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but this program of ours is also considered a best practice and it’s important to fund your best practices.”

The city decided Monday night to shave $20,000 of the $42,000 previously budgeted for the county Department of Public Health’s programs to dissuade minors from using drug and alcohol.

The money is allotted to the city through a state liquor excise tax. The city has sent it to the county for eight years.

Mentoring program

The $20,000 will be used instead to fund a collaborative led by Liesl Slabaugh, former director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, to continue a mentoring program that would have otherwise fallen apart after Big Brothers Big Sisters closed its Jefferson County branch two weeks ago.

The remaining $22,000 from the liquor excise tax still will go to the county for substance abuse prevention.

Still, Baldwin says that won’t be anywhere near enough to keep the program going as it is now.

“It probably closes it,” Baldwin said.

“I will sit down and talk with city officials about what they want to change and what they want to fund with the remaining money.

“I am really sorry they took the money back, and I’m surprised there was no notice, but in the end, it’s the people we serve who are getting squeezed and I am very sorry to them.”

Substance abuse

The substance abuse program currently targets three primary areas.

An early intervention program helps fund nurses to visit families for intensive checkups. The program aims to reduce child abuse and neglect as well as substance abuse and violence in high-risk situations.

Health workers also visit schools, specifically targeting sixth- and seventh-grade students, in the Project Alert program, which aims to teach awareness of drug and alcohol abuse.

The final area is a community plan to reduce substance abuse across the county through the schools, hospital and other local governments.

Health Educator Kelly Matlock, who leads the program, said the most crucial element is being involved with students on a ground level.

“Project Alert is a best practice, and was brought in to increase the prevention education taught in the schools,” Matlock said.

“It’s a scientifically based program intended to prevent substance abuse at a young age.

“I believe that right now it’s the only direct and focused drug and alcohol prevention program in the county.”

How to spend money

Baldwin said the bottom line was to decide what to do with the remaining money.

“And I will talk to the city about that,” she said, “But at this point we all need to come together to support our youth.”

“I plan to ask the city and the county and the schools to come together and find a way to help provide this service.”

The county has already proposed a $108,000 cut from the budget of Public Health in the 2010 budget.

Meanwhile, the city has expressed frustration over the services being provided by the county.

County services

In City Manager David Timmons’ narrative of the issues in the city budget, he said that a strain has been created on the general fund because of county contracts for services such as the jail, courts, animal services and drug and alcohol prevention programs.

“Those are issues we’re going to have to struggle with,” Timmons said, noting that the jail and courts costs were not something they could replace.

“We’re seeing increased costs for [services], but reduced service as the county struggles [with its budget].

“Also with the [proposed] county park closures within the city at Memorial Field and North Beach, we now are left looking at how to keep those open.”

Any parks costs would affect the community development fund in the 2010 budget.

Practical level

Mayor Michelle Sandoval said the money being sent to the mentoring program made sense on a practical level because the program would be able to monitor the results and work more closely.

Council members called into question where their money was going after it went to the county, saying they had seen no qualitative report how the liquor excise tax revenue was spent.

“I feel like we can take $20,000 from that fund and put it where we know it would be a good use,” Sandoval said at Monday night’s council meeting.

“I do feel like the mentoring program would be a good place for that.”

“Maybe that money is all doing good things.

“I think we really need to look at where we can tighten our belts, and this is one of those avenues.”

________

Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

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