Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Island’s sole provider of many essential human services, unveiled a budget this week for fiscal year 2010 calling for a $500,000 — or 10 per cent — reduction in spending. The budget calls for cuts in salaries, benefits and hours as well as the outright elimination of two programs.
The budget was approved by a unanimous vote of Community Services board of directors last Thursday, and comes at a time when demand for services provided by the social services agency is at all-time high. And state funding and charitable giving have dipped sharply due to a deepening economic recession.
At the end of the fiscal year on June 30, Community Services closed the books with operating revenues of $5.2 million and expenses of $5.5 million — leaving a deficit of $232,000. The budget for the coming year projects $4.8 million in revenues and $4.9 million in expenses, leaving a projected shortfall of some $150,000.
Community Services board president Susan Wasserman said the budget cuts are painful but necessary.
“We knew Martha’s Vineyard would not be immune to the economic difficulties that face this country,” she said in a prepared statement released this week. “We knew we were facing reductions in our overall budget but it took considerable analysis in making what were hard choices, as well as patience.”
Community Services executive director Julia Burgess said the budget cuts followed a lack of information about funding for a number of contracts the agency holds with several state agencies. “We are still negotiating many of our state contracts, which is unusual. Normally we have all our contracts done by this point in the year . . . but the state is behind. As a result, we have to sort of play it by ear,” she said.
Also complicating matters are insurance companies, Ms. Burgess said, who frequently deny claims and force the agency to navigate a bureaucratic maze to collect reimbursements for routine services. “The insurance industry gets more complicated each year. More often than ever they just refuse to pay . . . the Island Counseling Center is especially down this year, because insurance companies are denying claims,” she said.
Community Services employs about 100 staff members and provides services through five programs: the Community Building and Innovation Program, Connect to End Violence, Early Childhood Programs, Disability Services, Island Counseling Center, and the Thrift Shop.
Ms. Burgess said the challenge was to keep the current level of services and staffing levels while also accounting for decreases in state funding and charitable giving.
“The constant has been to fulfill the agency’s mission and provide the highest quality services possible to our clients — these are our neighbors, our families, our friends. Beyond that . . . [we are] dedicated to keeping our workforce as whole as possible. Without them, we could not provide the services and compassion we provide through our programs,” she said.
The budget cuts call for all staff currently eligible for raises to receive a reduction in salary between one and five per cent. The percent of that reduction, Ms. Burgess said, will depend upon the individual’s salary level. Management across the board will see a 5 per cent reduction in their salary for the coming year, she said.
Some staff hours will also be reduced, although those employees will not receive a cut in pay. The entire staff will also be asked to make a greater contribution to their health benefits. The agency will also stop making contributions to an employee retirement fund, vision insurance, and dental insurance. Several in-house agency events, including a Thanksgiving party and Valentine’s Day party have also been cancelled.
Ms. Burgess said the board made it a priority not to eliminate jobs.
“They are so loyal and professional . . . many have such strong and important relationships to clients. We saw layoffs as being highly disruptive, both for our organization and the families and individuals who depend on their help. Our employees have been great through all this, everyone has agreed to tighten their belts,” she said, adding:
“Without their support we would never get through this tough period.”
Although reductions in some programs will be made, only two programs will be eliminated: the family day care program operated by the agency’s Early Childhood Program and the community building and innovation program, run by Joyce Ganapol, who already has been asked to take on additional responsibilities at the Island Counseling Center
Ms. Burgess said the day care program, which has around 15 children enrolled, will be phased out by September, although the agency will work to find families in need of day care alternatives.
“We aren’t going to shut anyone out of day care. We will help them find something else,” she said.
Ms. Burgess said the board made the decision to eliminate the program due to the low reimbursement rate from the state for home day care providers.
Debbie Milne, longtime director of Early Childhood Programs, said she hopes to find other solutions. “We are hoping to secure funding from other sources to fill any gap that might be caused by the discontinuation of family day care,” she said.
The community building and innovation program primarily sponsored the John K. Pearce conference for health care professionals. The fall conference will now be cancelled.
Mrs. Wasserman said hopes are high for the annual Possible Dreams Auction, which takes place on August 3 at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. “We hope that people turn out in record numbers, buy tickets and bid as high as they can, knowing their dollars translate into essential and critical services for nearly 6,000 people on this Island annually,” she said.
Ms. Burgess said she is confident the agency will survive the crisis.
“Personally I am old enough, and have worked long enough in human services, to know these downturns happen sometimes. And I know that this too will pass. The main thing right now is for everybody to be supportive of one another, which is what [Community Services] has always been good at,” she said.