"I'm sorry" might get a bit easier to say in York County, if only for the frequency with which the phrase is delivered.
State budget cuts to human services will cost the county millions in lost funding, translating to reductions in everything from mental health programs to chemical dependency counseling, said Michelle Hovis, executive director of the county's Human Services Department.
"Someone who may need an inpatient drug and alcohol stay and wouldn't have other insurance to pay for it ... would be told 'I'm sorry,'" she said. "We already know there are so many more people out there who we can't help. The need is already greater than we have the funding for."
The apology might as
well be extended to county taxpayers, as they're likely to end up fielding the cost of reduced services in "one way or another," Hovis said. Both she and President County Commissioner Steve Chronister said they expect people to end up in prison instead of treatment as a result of the state budget cuts.
"It's very hard," Hovis said. "Usually what ends up happening is someone who can't access treatment ends up in jail, which is not better for the person or the taxpayer. Or they return to the hospital, which may or may not get paid for the services they provide."
10 percent cut: York County social workers were preparing for a 20 percent cut in funding after Gov. Tom Corbett released his budget earlier this year. That would have represented about $4.5 million, Hovis said, but the state legislature trimmed the cuts to about half, 10 percent.
The county's Human Services budget is about $22 million, she said, but officials are still calculating the amount of the funding cut.
The cuts are spread across seven categories, ranging from a 7.6 percent decrease in mental health funds to 10 percent cuts in categories including drug and alcohol treatment and homeless assistance programs.
Hovis said her staff is still looking at the final funding to see where changes can be made. They'll include eliminating positions through attrition and reduction or elimination of programs.
Most changes will occur in mental health treatment, which lost the most money despite having the smallest percentage of decrease.
Programs include inpatient and outpatient care, supervised housing, and vocational and social rehab programs.
County officials have already decided against cuts in the crisis intervention service, a "critical" service provided by WellSpan, under which, for example, suicidal people can call for help, Hovis said.
Block grant possibility: Also unclear is whether the county will apply for consideration for block grants that would allow greater flexibility with the state funding it does receive, Hovis said. The budget calls for a pilot program under which 20 counties would be selected to participate in the program.
Officials are still considering the pros and cons, and the state has not yet released the full details and criteria, she said Monday.
And while county commissioners bemoan the cut in state funding, they aren't eager to compensate for the loss by raising taxes on a local level.
Commissioner Doug Hoke said the funding loss is devastating because it affects those with the most need.
It'll be difficult to decide which services to cut, and equally hard to decide whether to end a four-year streak of no county tax increases to restore programs.
Regardless, he doesn't see funding levels returning for at least the remaining two years of Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, he said.
Commissioner Chris Reilly said 10 percent is better than 20, "but it's obviously going to be tough," he said.
'Passing the buck:' Chronister said Corbett's 20 percent proposal "was a joke that they knew they would never get, so they got what they wanted, 10 percent."
He said Corbett is adhering to his promise not to raise taxes on a state level while shifting the funding burden to counties.
"It's passing the buck," Chronister said. "He wants to look good in the eyes of the taxpayers ... and shoved it down the throat of the county commissioners."
He said he isn't sure whether the county will have to increase taxes to pay for the lost state revenue. York could take the same stance as some counties, saying "'If the state doesn't want to help, neither will we,'" Chronister said, though that could be self-defeating.
"There are mentally ill people who may end up in the prison system if they don't get the services they need," he said. "There's no doubt about it. We're going to pay for it one way or another."
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.