One agency ponders its future now that both the city and county reduced funding for non-profits
As the state of California crumbles beneath an unprecedented fiscal failure, and local governments stagger and sway from the blows of their own budget fiascos, agencies throughout their jurisdictions are facing the repercussions.
In the words of Merle Smith, executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP), “It’s killing us.” The nonprofit has reduced employee’s work weeks to 32 hours and cut many positions to part-time. Although their primary sources of funding are federal and state dollars, Smith says the decreases in local funding will affect the drop-in center and needle exchange located in Downtown Santa Cruz and administrator salaries. Smith fears these reductions in services will have a ripple effect on the community.
“We collect used needles and dispose of them in a safe manner to prevent them from being in public parks or places where children are,” she says, giving just one example. “If we have no staff to collect them, it’s a greater risk to the public of being infected.”
SCAP is currently applying for stimulus funds through the Housing and Urban Development Department, and nervously anticipating the finalization of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget. Smith says that SCAP’s livelihood will be threatened if they suffer state funding decreases on top of what’s already been lost.
“SCAP is really reeling from the severity of these various cuts,” she says. “If the governor’s recommended budget goes through we will lose every dollar for prevention education in this county.
“We have worked for 25 years here, working to educate people about HIV/AIDS, and provide services to people living with those, and to think this could be lost to this community because we mismanaged our finances on the state level is unbelievable. But such is life.”
Cuts All Around
SCAP is just one of many nonprofits in the Santa Cruz area that saw a slash in funding recently. Beginning in early July, Santa Cruz County implemented 20 percent cuts to nonprofit funding, as well as to funding of many county departments.
And, at their well-attended July 14 meeting, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved the city’s 2009-10 budget, which included a 25 percent decrease in nonprofit funding. The figure was originally 30 percent, but, one week before the meeting, Councilmembers Katherine Beiers and Don Lane proposed cutting funding for the Santa Cruz Visitors and Cultural Councils by 10 percent in order to lessen the reduction for non-profits from 30 to 25 percent.
The walls were lined with representatives from all concerned parties, some holding signs that read “Support Youth Services, 25%” and “ Fund Local Humanitarian Aid” and others wearing large yellow stickers with the slogan, “Tourism Works for Santa Cruz.” Before opening for public comment, Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin assured the fretful crowd that they need not worry.
“I’m encouraging you to not all feel like you have to come up here and beat us up because it’s not necessary—you’ve got enough votes for 25 percent,” Rotkin told the crowd, bluntly hinting that the motion would pass. In the end, the council voted to reduce nonprofit funding to 25 percent as well as maintain current levels of funding for the Visitors and Cultural Councils. The decision pacified community members, but will raise the city’s existing deficit to $630,000. The council agreed to explore options like raising parking and permit fees at future meetings to help close this gap.
“What we’re doing today is taking a bet on the future,” said Councilmember Ryan Coonerty. “I’m optimistic it will be the right decision for the long-term.”
In addition to losing funding from Santa Cruz (although it was less than originally proposed), SCAP’s piece of Watsonville’s pie was also reduced—by 15 percent—making Scotts Valley and Capitola SCAP’s only two funding jurisdictions that didn’t lessen their giving. Capitola City Manger Richard Hill credits this consistency to the fact that the city “responded early and quickly to the decline in the economy.” According to Hill, city leaders, in negotiation with city employees, were able to work out alternative solutions before implementing harsh cuts to programs like Community Grants, which supplies appropriations to local nonprofits.
“The [city] employees stepped up to the issue and through a collaborative process furloughs were implemented in March 2009 and four employees agreed to an early retirement, allowing the city to freeze the positions,” Hill explains via e-mail. “These actions plus other expenditure reductions in materials, supplies and contracts allowed the City to adopt a budget that was otherwise unchanged in services.”
As for Scotts Valley, the $46,000 annually dedicated to community nonprofits is included in the new budget; however, the subcommittee that decides on how to delegate these funds will not meet until later in the summer. City Manger Steve Ando says that “the meeting could result in a recommendation for a different amount and (if approved by Council) the budget would be amended to reflect it.”
Getting By With a Little Help from Friends
When explaining SCAP’s situation, Smith likes to quote popular songs. She refers to “I Will Survive” as emblematic of the organization’s determination, and has appropriated The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” to convey their good fortune. For, although SCAP is losing public funding left and right, they’re receiving growing amounts of help from their friends in the community.
“Our giving has decreased in some ways, but increased in others,” says Smith. Thanks to community members like ProBuild, McClure Construction and Haber Brothers Properties, among others, SCAP’s new Front Street offices were almost entirely cost neutral – the building supplies, construction, and computer and electrical wiring were all donated. Other donations include a local attorney who gives his time and services to SCAP, Wells Fargo rents them office space in Watsonville for $1, and Dave McClure, of McClure Construction, has volunteered to run the organization’s first Capital Campaign to help them raise funds and ease financial woes.
All items, performances and activities at SCAP’s upcoming silent auction were also donated. The event, “A Taste of Summer,” will be held on July 25 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, which donated the space to the group. The fundraiser was a staple of SCAP’s in years past, but fell by the wayside as the agency stumbled through hard times (and near closure) in recent years. Now back on their feet, and with Smith as executive director, SCAP is committed to staying strong.
“Our hope is that, with the re-introduction of this event, we’ll let people know where we stand with the budget issues,” says Smith. “We’re here for the long haul. We will find a way to survive. There are too many people in this community whose lives have been positively impacted by SCAP and they’re willing to give back. They are not going to let this agency go away.”
Resolute, and with a simple smile and shrug of the shoulders, she puts the matter to rest: “Closing SCAP is not an option.”