Berkeley Public Heath Division Prepares for Further Fiscal Cuts

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Possible Budget Cuts

Assistant City News Editor Stephanie Baer and Yousur Alhlou dissect the effects of the possible budget cuts on the Berkeley public health division.

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The city of Berkeley's Public Health Division is bracing itself for possible financial setbacks amid proposed cuts to state-funded health and human services stemming from dwindling state revenue.

While the division - which receives about 42 percent of its funding from the state - currently faces a $3.1 million deficit, it, like most county and city departments, will have to carry the additional weight of about $20 billion in reductions from federal funds as outlined in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal.

Public health expenditures account for 7 percent of the city's annual budget, but as the city struggles to tackle a $16.2 million shortfall and is facing a decrease in state funding, it is likely that the division will be forced to institute service reductions and staff layoffs, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak.

"It's still too early to speculate on the specific effects on specific services," Budget Manager Teresa Berkeley-Simmons said in an e-mail. "It would be hard to imagine a service area that did not have to make some adjustments going forward."

Come June, when the council will pass a new biennial budget, the division will be particularly vulnerable, as the city is reluctant to cut resources to K-12 education and public safety because realignment funds - revenue from state sales tax - have declined.

Shawn Martin, health director at the Legislative Analyst's Office, said that although the state's public health department will receive reduced federal funding, state spending for these purposes has increased 52 percent since the 1990-2000 fiscal years, despite a significant dip in 2008.

"There aren't that many cost reduction proposals compared to prior years," Martin said.

However, the city's division is likely to experience a negative fiscal impact if the proposed state budget is passed.

The city has already slashed nursing services and reduced funding to community agencies that provide direct services to residents. The Berkeley Free Clinic - which recently lost half of its annual funds due to state cuts - has experienced a $25,000 decrease in laboratory service fees from the city, according to Yves Gibbons, clinic fundraising coordinator.

Gibbons said he does not directly attribute the clinic's diminished budget to the city's financial woes but added that decreased public funding has put a strain on the clinic.

"We haven't cut services," he said. "We're actually expanding ... and we're trying to go after a lot of smaller grants, and local businesses to make up for the difference."

But the city's ability to continue providing quality care remains uncertain.

In response, Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson recently produced "The People Stand for Preventing Early Obituaries by Proposing Logical Economic Solutions," a proposal that outlines $4 billion in short-term budget cuts - including reducing prison sentences for minor marijuana possession - to be placed on the Feb. 15 consent calendar. If passed by the council, the proposal will likely be presented to Brown.

"I just happen to think that these particular cuts are too devastating to accept," Worthington said. "There are alternatives that should not have this severe of a consequence."

The council is set to review the 2011 fiscal budget, including the future of the city's public health division, and forecast city revenue at its Feb. 15 meeting.


Yousur Alhlou covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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