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As county jobs shrink, nonprofits help

More money will soon be outsourced to nonprofit groups and other providers in the county’s effort to better serve the community and stretch taxpayer dollars.

It comes at a time when the county workforce has been reduced and many department heads are wearing multiple hats.

While some nonprofits say they welcome the challenge of an increased workload, it could put them at risk if programs are created using unpredictable revenue sources at a time when the economy is flat.



Department heads who use the services of outside groups say it makes sense economically and provides the community with more specialized services than the county government has the resources for.

Not all the work will go to nonprofits; independent contractors can also come from the private sector.




Dramatic change

This year, Behavioral Health has an extra $2.4 million in its budget, an additional 20 percent more than last year, to use for independent contractors. The money came from the Mental Health Services Act and the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant.

Several years ago, the number of staff was reduced, leaving the population of 7,000 mentally ill people in the county with less options for care, said Michael Heggarty, director of Behavorial Health.

In other counties, outsourcing for mental health care is common, but here in Nevada County, the pool of nonprofits that can fill holes has been limited, Heggarty said.

Until now.

With the new funding, the department is negotiating agreements with contractors from outside the area to establish an intensive mental health service office in Nevada County for 200 children, youth and adults. This will allow more people to stay in the county for the treatment they desperately need.

“We’ll just be able to say ‘yes’ more often,” Heggarty said.

Nothing new

According to 2005-2006 grand jury findings, 61 programs totaling $3.5 million were awarded to various outside service providers (including nonprofits) to provide social services such as child and elder care, drug abuse treatment, transportation and mental health.

“We’re constantly looking for these kinds of partnerships,” said Deputy County Executive Officer/Chief Fiscal Officer Joe Christoffel. He said the county’s contracts have remained similar to those of two years ago.

Meanwhile the county has eliminated 40 department heads in the last several years and the workforce has dropped from 1,054 to 986. People are wearing multiple hats after the reorganization but no one lost their job in the last year, Christoffel said.

Mixed reaction

“I think outsourcing to nonprofits is a good idea,” said Lindy Beatie, executive director of United Way of Nevada County.

Nonprofits such as United Way are surviving with flat revenue sources and many state and federal grants are drying up, Beatie said. An increase in county needs could put a strain on agencies if they drift from their original mission statement to provide services just to get a pot of money, said Beatie.

Nonprofits need to understand what their role is with the county “so they’re not getting stuck with a program that the money dries up for,” Beatie said.

Infighting among the nonprofit community is also a problem when the county shows preferential treatment to one group for grant dollars, said one mental health worker who wished to remain anonymous.

“It’s a hard position because no one wants to talk about it. The money is fought over,” the man said.

On the plus side, using nonprofits eliminates the duplication of services which the public may view as a waste of tax dollars and gives nonprofits the opportunity to show their value to the community, Beatie said.

“I don’t think the community understands there’s a lot out there that nonprofits do,” Beatie said.

Threat to county jobs?

Several years ago, the county transferred management of its Lovett Recovery Center to a nonprofit group, the Progress House. The transitional residence is used by people recovering from substance abuse problems.

Several county employees lost their jobs during the process, one stayed on with Progress House, and several others found work in other areas of the Department of Behavioral Health.

County salaries and benefits make up the largest portion of the county’s budget and represented 43.4 percent of this year’s budget pie.

Cutting county jobs and deferring them to nonprofits when the money is tight is a possibility that won’t be ruled out in future years, Christoffel said, but he added, positions are safe for now.

“Currently there’s no anticipation of that,” he said.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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