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The big squeeze

Published August 26. 2011 05:02PM

Carbon County is feeling the squeeze from Pennsylvania's 2011-2012 budget.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board approved an agreement between the county and the Carbon County Action Committee regarding the administration of the 2011-2012 human services development fund program, in the amount of $51,783.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, pointed out that this action illustrates that cutbacks on the county level are imminent because of cutbacks from the state. The fund's budget is $30,000 less than last year's.

O'Gurek explained that this means that there will be cutbacks in services and the elimination of the county's participation in some areas of service.

"Today's action in approving the expenditure plan of human services sets aside money for the homemaker's services program and chore program, but eliminates things like family foster care under Children and Youth Services, community employment services under Mental Health/Mental Retardation, and adult day care services that we had been able to provide in the past through the Area Agency on Aging," O'Gurek said.

He also noted that under a second action which the county approved was for workforce investment area training in Pike and Wayne counties.

"It is not very clear to me yet under the Pocono Counties Workforce Investment Program because we are the administrator of these programs," O'Gurek said. "Today's action relates to us administering these programs in Pike and Wayne counties, and I can tell you those numbers are less than last year's numbers. It is likely that there will be less services in employment and training opportunities for people under the workforce investment program, not only in Pike and Wayne, but also when we act on Carbon's agreement.

"I'm a little bit worried about what's going to happen here regarding cutbacks and services. You know that the legislature and governor cut back millions of dollars in aid to our schools and I think now you're starting to see that passed on to the counties."

He noted that in addition to the cuts on the human services and workforce investment levels, Children and Youth Services faces a $400,000 cut in state funding for next year.

"That equates to less services that we're going to be able to provide to families and children in the next year or so. I think it's sad that the legislature has opted to cut programs for the most vulnerable people, children, families, and adults."

The commissioners have instructed the director of Children and Youth to look at where things could be cut, and O'Gurek said, unfortunately, it probably will mean less placement of children in protective care.

"It's probably going to result in Children and Youth working closer with the courts to possibly not place as many children, which then equates to problems that we may not see. If we do not continue to provide the level of care that we are, and if we are keeping the children in a different setting then where they may belong, then who knows what the results and consequences will be."

He noted that 2012 is going to be a tough year for the county because of state cutbacks, because it means making tougher decisions on what programs should stay and what needs to be cut.

"I think it will be a sad testimony when someone calls our Area Agency on Aging or Human Services for foster care or other programs looking for assistance, and we might have to say we can't provide them with services because the money has been cut," O'Gurek said.

He added that Child Care Services also may change over the next few months.

The county received information from the state, which funds the program, that states that the commonwealth is looking for agencies to run the programs on a regional basis. Carbon County is in a region with Monroe and Luzerne counties.

"If we're going to jump start this economy from our end in what we're able to do, we need to provide those child care services for people to go to work," O'Gurek said. "I would hate to see what happens if they can't go to work because there is nobody to care for these children."

So will Carbon County be able to continue operating on the same level in 2012?

"It's yet to be determined whether or not the county can absorb the cuts that the state gave to us and continue to provide the services at the same levels. Obviously we're going to be in for a difficult budget, but from the state's end, it's pretty apparent that there will be less monies available to us on the revenue side than what there was in 2011," O'Gurek said.

"But how it all unfolds, it's just too early to determine whether we'll be able to maintain some of those programs at the level we run them at now."

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