BY JAMES R. RIFFEL
City News Service
San Diego County supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to halve the budget for the county Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, despite opposition from nearly 100 representatives of arts and community service organizations.
Supervisors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob introduced the measure to cut the pool of funds from $10 million to $5 million to save money for essential programs in the next fiscal year. The county, like other governments, has been hard-hit by low tax revenues and cuts in state funding.
The supervisors allocate the funds individually to nonprofit organizations across the county, not by a vote of the full board.
Cox and Jacob both said they like the the program, but argued it needs to share the budget pain suffered by county departments.
"I've been listening to people ask not to cut one penny out of the program, and believe me, if I had my druthers we wouldn't be cutting anything, we'd be adding to it," Cox said.
The lone dissenter was Supervisor Bill Horn, who said he favors the program as a way to balance funding inequities suffered by unincorporated areas of the county, which he said generate far more tax dollars than they receive in return.
"I don't think returning the money to the general fund is going to help (the budget) very much," Horn said.
Speakers opposed to the cuts told the supervisors that $5 million is a drop in the bucket of a budget well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Directors and board members of local museums, theaters, historical societies and other nonprofits asked the supervisors to reject the proposed funding cut.
George Brown of the Armed Forces YMCA at Camp Pendleton said his organization is helping military families stressed by multiple deployments.
Representatives of several large nonprofits, including I Love A Clean San Diego, SAY San Diego and the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County, told the board they support the funding reduction in lieu of eliminating the program.
"It's a balanced approach in maintaining $5 million in funding while other programs have been eliminated," said Walter Phillips, chief executive
officer of San Diego Youth Services.
Lani Lutar, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, called the funding reduction "a step in the right direction" but urged the supervisors to suspend the program entirely until the budget picture improves.
Core county services have already been cut, and the forecast is that 2012 will be the worst year yet for government revenues, Lutar said.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said Lutar was one of just a few to suggest the program be eliminated. He cited the county's bleak fiscal condition in supporting the proposal, but said he hoped the funds could be restored as soon as possible.
The funding reduction is be for the next fiscal year. The program will then be re-evaluated.