SONOMA COUNTY – The county’s alcohol and drug treatment arm received an unexpected gift from the board of supervisors this month, offering the one bright spot amidst further health services trimming.

The governing body voted to dip into reserves by about a quarter million dollars to try and patch together the drug recovery and treatment program that was nearly obliterated by state cuts this year. At the same time, supervisors passed close to $4 million in further cuts to health services and eliminated several programs, including an immunization and vaccination clinic, skin testing services, family planning and an STD clinic. The recent approval implements a layoff equivalent to about eight full-time positions.

The Oct. 6 decision was the second round of health budget reductions recently, following about $6.7 million in cuts approved this summer. In the last two fiscal years, the department has reduced its budget by about $23 million and 102 full-time equivalent positions.

In addition to pressure from state reimbursement decreases, the county has also lost funding from sales tax and vehicle license fee revenue, which has fallen by about 17 percent since the 2007 fiscal year.

The cuts break down to about $706,000 in losses to the mental health department, $666,000 from prevention and planning, about $114,000 from administrative services and about $1.8 million from the Public Health Department.

The alcohol and other drug services department took the most significant hit, losing about $1.3 million, or about 12 percent of its budget in 2009. The largest blow came from the total elimination of state funding for Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act services. The program serves about 450 drug offenders in Sonoma County, approximately 250 of which will lose substance abuse and treatment services.

During the Oct. 6 hearing, supervisors proposed mitigating the cuts by addressing the issue on the front end: keeping clients out of the criminal justice system all together.

“I think it was really smart on the supervisors' behalf to really look at upstream funding as a way to save, before people get caught up in the criminal justice system, which is far more expensive,” said Michael Spielman, executive director of the Drug Abuse Alternatives Center, which provides contracted services for the county.

Supervisors agreed to a supplementary allocation of $251,076 to the department in addition to $284,000 approved earlier in the budget process.

“The word on the street at times sounds like, ‘If you haven’t committed a crime, you can’t get a bed,’ and our thinking is that is not the most cost-effective way to run the system. It’s good to know the supervisors agree with us,” said AODS Administration Program Manager Maureen Donaghue.

The funding will be used to target identified underserved populations, including for residential and day rehabilitation services for pregnant women. Funding will also be prioritized for treatment of non-criminal women, those with children, Latinos and transitional housing for men and women.