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Town Hall with Supervisor Neal Coonerty

neal-coonertyThe county is concluding its budget hearings this week. Can you provide an update on the county budget and any programs that may be of interest to the public?

The proposed County Budget for 2012-2013 reflects a fifth difficult year for county finances as we struggle to emerge from the sluggish economy. Significant savings to the proposed $387 million General Fund Budget were achieved by extending furloughs for a fourth year for virtually all county employees and budget reductions up to 15 percent in most county departments. However, even in these difficult times, by working together with other jurisdictions and the private sector, we have been able to spearhead new and innovative programs to address some very serious needs in the City of Santa Cruz.

Since being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2007, I have been a member of the Mental Health Advisory Board and have worked hard to try to address some of the needs of the mentally ill in our community. This past January, I convened a task force to seek a way to address the issue of mentally ill in the jail and the impact of mentally ill offenders in the community, particularly in Downtown Santa Cruz. I sought the advice of county mental health professionals as well as law enforcement and county health services staff. They recommended that we attempt to re-start a once successful program called the MOST program (Maintaining On-going Stability Through Treatment).

The MOST program has had success in dramatically reducing incarceration rates and recidivism of mentally ill offenders in the past when the program was fully funded. The most recent fully funded program was July 2007 – September 2008. Individuals enrolled in this program had a total of 3,216 jail beds days prior to participating on the MOST team. For the 12 months individuals participated, the total jail bed days for the same individuals were 135. 

This program has been shown to reduce jail bed days, the occurrence of new offences, and probation violations. In addition to demonstrating improved stability in the community, the program seeks to reduce psychiatric inpatient bed days, reduce the days of homelessness, increase treatment compliance, and increase days in the pro-social activities such as employment. Since the state funding ran out, the county has managed to keep a skeleton MOST team alive without many of the wrap-around services the county provided when the program when was fully funded. 

With the help of new county funding, and a contribution toward this program from the City of Santa Cruz, we are able to re-start the MOST program and provide the auxiliary services that are so vital to promote stability and prevent decompensation among the mentally ill. The MOST program will put qualified staff on the ground to interact with this population in order to address a known, persistent, and current issue in Santa Cruz and the downtown area.

I care about this population and know that the best place for those living with mental illness is not on the streets and not in jail where the cost to the individual, the city, county, and community is high, but working with professionals to get services that they need and bring stability to their lives.

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