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State crisis threatens services

Budget woes force local senior center, domestic violence shelter to look elsewhere for funds

Posted: November 19, 2009 9:45 p.m.
Updated: November 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
With a third state fiscal crisis looming, Santa Clarita Valley agencies are looking to other sources of funding to balance their books.

The state Legislative Analyst's Office predicted a state budget shortfall of $20 billion during the next 18 months. The prospect has worried local agencies reeling from severe state cuts this year.

"Every time there is a financial crisis in the nation or the state, the financial slap in the face seems to hit seniors the hardest," said Brad Berens, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

California lawmakers slashed money from the Senior Center's budget in July, almost shutting down the adult day care program.

The center has been able to keep its doors open thanks to federal grants and private donations. Berens said the Senior Center's reliance on state funding is minimal, but necessary to supplement federal grants.

Berens said he is actively looking for grants and seeking private contributions to avoid cutting any of the Center's programs.

In February and again in July, California lawmakers butted heads over how to balance the state's $84 billion budget. A recession, coupled with a Republican commitment to not raise taxes and Democrats' vow to keep social services intact, created a perfect fiscal storm.

The end result was a state budget deficit that ballooned to more than $26 billion in spring of 2009. By July, California had to issue IOUs to cover its debts.

"I am most worried about next fiscal year because there is no talk about new funding," said Nicole Shellcroft, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Domestic Violence Center was saved from closing its doors in October when state lawmakers passed a bill that siphoned money from an underused alternative energy tax fund to pay for battered women's shelters.

With another state budget crisis looming, Shellcroft is looking elsewhere to fund the Domestic Violence Center.

"We're looking at different funding sources," she said. "I don't think we can count on the state for funding."

And the domestic Violence Center can't trim its budget or its staff any further and maintain the much needed services it provides.

While the number of domestic violence incidents increased in 2009, Shellcroft was forced to cut staff to two full-time employees and four part-time employees. The center's clinical director, who holds a master's degree in social work and at one time served as the executive director of the agency, volunteers her services.

"We can't cut any more staff," Shellcroft said.

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