Tough Economy, Slashed Services

Planner and Rooflines blogger David Holtzman pointed to the potential effects of diminished funding for fire companies as the economy continues to slide, and sadly, this is not the only […]

Planner and Rooflines blogger David Holtzman pointed to the potential effects of diminished funding for fire companies as the economy continues to slide, and sadly, this is not the only area where we are likely to see reductions in municipal services.

In the Fall 2008 issue of Shelterforce, we took a broad, and somewhat arbitrary look at a handful of communities that had been crippled by youth violence in the last year. When I say “arbitrary,” I don’t mean that they were chosen without a system or reason, but because they were simply representative of youth programming we see around the country, suffering from the same challenges, and working through the same problems. They included communities in Pittsburgh; Newark, N.J.; Connecticut, and Chicago. They all benefited from funding achieved through various partnership models, but all depended heavily on non-revenue income.

David’s piece on fire services and the adverse impact on quick response times is something that should really be an eye-opener in communities as we head into the coldest part of the winter — particularly communities with older buildings, older furnaces, space heaters, etc. Just yesterday, firefighters working in Yonkers, N.Y., a modest-sized city with a population roughly around 200,000 that lies along the Hudson just north of New York City, voted to work a shift without pay “as part of a deal to save $450,000 and restore the jobs or ranks of 12 fire department members” according to a report in Newsday. The 12 were laid off or demoted because of budget cuts as Yonkers City Hall deals with a $16 million deficit.

As municipalities across the country face tightening budgets, we’re more than likely going to see a reduction in municipal services. While this could result in positive fiscal conservatism, consolidating duplicated services among towns in tight proximity as is the case in little ol’ New Jersey, with its 566 municipalities, but in the worst case, as is the case in a handful of scenarios in Florida that I’ve been following, crucial youth and crime prevention services are being cut at the expense of, you got it, at-risk youth or youth and young adults in need of job training.

While it would be best to take a holistic look at cuts in youth programming and public safety, much like the Shelterforce piece on crime prevention, examining the pieces can be even more revealing.
The St. Augustine Record, for example, reports that the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is grappling with how to trim $2.3 billion from its proposed $66 billion budget, which is funded in part by the state, and from property taxes, both of which are expected to take a hit this year.

The word “ancillary” has never been so foreboding.

The department now has a directive to cut “ancillary” posts, equipment, or programs. Crime prevention officers, youth resource deputies in schools? Those are ancillary, according to the sheriff there:

Well, if you’re taking the cops out of schools, there’s a problem. If you shut down the program to help elderly people not be victims of a crime, that’s a problem. If you shut down the victims’ advocate resources…that’s a problem.

A problem indeed.

In Virginia, the Central Shenandoah Valley Office on Youth faces a a $150,000 budget reduction this year, resulting in teen pregnancy reduction program cuts, as well as potentials cuts from SAW 2010, a gang prevention collaborative of myriad community groups that covers Virginia’s Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro. The state act that provides funding for SAW 2010, the Virginia Juvenile Crime Control Act, is cutting funding back five percent, Staunton and Waynesboro also cut help by 5 percent, and Augusta County cut funds by 2 percent, according to a local ABC affiliate there.

To follow the lead of the firefighters in Yonkers donating shifts as a means of avoiding gaps in services, how can towns, counties, and states, deal with cuts to so-called ancillary services?

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