Agencies brace for state cuts

Published 10:26 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Government agencies in Suffolk plan to make up for the loss of stimulus funds and state aid next year through eliminating programs, cutting vacant positions from the budget and relying on grants.

Four agencies that receive local funding from the city — Suffolk Public Schools, Western Tidewater Community Services Board, Western Tidewater Health District and the Suffolk office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension — submitted “sustainability plans” requested by the city manager at the behest of City Council. The city wanted to ensure the agencies had plans for funding positions and programs that have been carried by stimulus funds the past couple years.

The Western Tidewater Health District is considering the most drastic cuts, even considering layoffs and the elimination of the Healthy Families Program, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn told City Council members in an October letter.

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The district is facing an increased demand for its services despite diminished local funding, Cuffee-Glenn reported. In the current fiscal year, Suffolk lowered its contribution to the district because only 41 percent of its service users are from Suffolk, but the city was paying about 47 percent of the department’s budget.

In addition to cutting positions and programs, the district plans to apply for grants, sublet space in its building to another state agency, decrease the number of slots available for medical clinics and reduce the number of restaurant inspections performed above and beyond state requirements.

Suffolk Public Schools also faces some challenges in the coming budget process. State funding to localities for education is expected to drop because the state is currently using federal stimulus funds to pay for part of its share of aid. In addition, local taxpayers will be expected to shoulder more of the burden of paying for education because of changes to the Composite Index, a calculation that determines the local ability to pay.

The school division is preparing for the loss by eliminating positions that were funded with stimulus dollars, using a $3.4 million one-time grant from the Federal Education Jobs Fund to bridge the gap.

No salary increases are planned for school employees in the 2011-2012 school year, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn told City Council members in an October letter. School employees last received raises in 2008 but will get bonuses of $300-$500 in their December paychecks from the federal jobs fund money.

The Western Tidewater Community Services Board gets only 3 percent of its $21.4 million budget from local money, obtaining the rest from fees, state funding and other sources. Reductions in fee-based revenue are anticipated because of adjustments to rates for Medicaid and similar programs.

However, the board is implementing a number of cost-saving strategies, Cuffee-Glenn said, including eliminating vacant budget positions, freezing hiring for non-critical staff and developing performance standards to increase staff productivity.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension intends to meet demands for services with level local funding, Cuffee-Glenn wrote, indicating most line items of its budget likely will not be affected.