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Legislators assail cut in Jeffco social services funding

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Commissioner Rosier defends decision to slash county allocations to three nonprofits

By Ramsey Scott

The voices demanding that the Jeffco commissioners restore funding to three social services nonprofits are growing in number and intensity.

State Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, and current state representative and Sen.-elect Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, issued a news release before Christmas calling on the county commissioners to restore $688,000 that was cut from the county’s 2013 budget for Family Tree, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and the Seniors’ Resource Center.

Jahn said the cuts make no sense, especially when the county is spending $700,000 for another highway study. While Jahn said she knows the money for that study was allocated several years ago, that shouldn’t matter now.

“Sometimes you redo a budget, and I just don’t understand how many more studies have to be done,” Jahn said. “When are we going to say, ‘When is enough, enough?’ ”

Jahn said if she had to choose between funding a road study and funding for social services, especially during an economic downturn, she would choose social services every time.

“My constituents are yelling about it and want answers as well,” Kerr said. “Right now, with recent events in Colorado and around the nation, the emphasis on mental health issues … . It’s critical that we act at a county level, a state level and a federal level so we’re addressing all the concerns.”

Kerr also took issue with the budget being approved by only two of the three current commissioners. Jeffco Commissioner John Odom, who lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Casey Tighe in November, was not present for the budget vote and has missed the last several commissioner meetings.

“Where’s our third commissioner? Why are only two people making this incredibly important decision that impacts our community?” Kerr asked.

Kerr, a six-year veteran of the Colorado House, said he has experience dealing with difficult budget issues and trying to balance competing interests.

“The Jefferson County commissioners seem to be saying, ‘Let’s just cut down to the bone and the marrow,’ ” Kerr said. Given the current economic climate and the demand for social services, “that’s not the direction we should be going right now,” he said.

The criticism from Kerr and Jahn joined earlier objections from state Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Jeffco, and other community leaders.

Still, Jeffco Commissioner Don Rosier was unapologetic and defended the cuts.

“It’s interesting someone not involved in our process is giving recommendations on how to spend (money) in Jefferson County,” Rosier said.

Rosier rejected the contention that the $700,000 cited by Jahn is going toward a study.

“Once again, it’s not a study,” Rosier said.

He said the funds are actually being used to combine multiple studies, including those related to C-470 upgrades; the proposed Northwest Parkway to complete the Denver area beltway; and Golden’s road plans. The overall conclusions would then be presented to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The combination of studies into one cohesive plan is meant to help the county compete for funds being allocated through the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships program, Rosier said.

The RAMP program is a five-year plan that CDOT hopes will increase available money for construction by $300 million annually. While CDOT has yet to finalize the criteria it will use for selecting projects to fund, Rosier said that if the county waits, it might end up at the back of the line.

CDOT plans to start allocating funds for RAMP projects by this spring.

Kerr said the county should be using its reserve funds to help make up the deficit in the social services budget. He pointed to the state’s economic forecasts, which show Colorado’s economy is on the road to recovery.

“Our projections are that we’ve hit rock bottom, and we’re staring to inch our way up,” Kerr said. “That’s what reserves are for, to help guard against going into the drastic cuts.”

Rosier disagreed.

“From all indications we’ve received, we’re not looking at a huge bounce economic forecast-wise,” Rosier said. “One thing Kerr should realize: The county is always two years in the rear when it comes to any economic recovery. When we do our re-evaluations, it’s always two years before we receive those dollars.”

Rosier said the county has already been dipping into its reserves for the past four years, including this year, and at the current rate the reserves soon will be depleted.

In 2012, the Seniors’ Resource Center served more than 22,000 people, 17,000 of whom were Jefferson County residents. The reduction in county funding will affect more than 3,000 Jeffco residents who rely on SRC services that will be discontinued, according to SRC spokesman Steve Grund.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.