CSAC braces for big budget cuts

MIDDLEBURY — The Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) has instituted a hiring freeze and could resort to layoffs depending on the severity of mental health program cuts lawmakers are considering for the fiscal year 2012 state budget.
As the Addison Independentwent to press, the House Appropriations Committee had passed out a draft budget calling for a 2.5-percent cut in spending for mental health and developmental disability programs. Rep. Joe Acinapura, R-Brandon, said the committee decided it could not support Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposal for a deeper, 5-percent budget cut in those areas.
“We know we have to make cuts, but not as much as the governor,” Acinapura said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
Robert Thorn, executive director of CSAC, said a 5-percent cut — coupled with inflation — would translate into a roughly $893,000 hit for the agency next year. The Counseling Service employs approximately 300 people and has an annual budget of around $16 million.
If a 2.5-percent cut (with inflation) is ultimately endorsed by the Legislature and Shumlin, CSAC can expect more than $500,000 in cuts to programs like youth and family services, adult outpatient services, community rehabilitation and treatment, emergency programs, substance abuse services and Community Associates programming.
The organization’s last true budget increase (4 percent) was in fiscal year 2008, according to documents provided by CSAC. The fiscal year 2009 state budget granted CSAC and other mental health agencies a 2.5-percent spending increase, but that hike was wiped out by subsequent rescissions.
This year (fiscal year 2011) CSAC took another $155,235 cut in state funding, coupled with a $115,000 reduction as part of Vermont’s “Challenges for Change” directive.
“Since 2009, we have been hit pretty hard,” Thorn said. “It seems like mental health is getting a little bit picked on here.”
Thorn and his colleagues are waiting to see how the fiscal year 2011 budget numbers ultimately shake out.
“It’s too early to know what’s really going to happen,” Thorn said. “We are working to minimize disruption to our staff and clients.”
Disruption will likely take the form of longer waiting lists for some client services, such as for adult out-patient mental health counseling.
“If you have a loved one that needs services, you don’t want them to wait,” Thorn said. “A 60-day wait is not OK.”
Thorn added it is will be critically important for CSAC to make sure its other clients don’t slip through the cracks, such as substance-abusers who require prompt attention; people seeking 24/7 emergency services care who need someone to talk to; and developmentally disabled clients seeking to stay in jobs that help them remain productive members of society.
In order to weather cuts in the past, CSAC has eliminated various positions through attrition and by asking existing staff to multi-task. The organization will likely have to use those, and other more dramatic strategies, to meet the new budget reduction target, according to Thorn.

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