Budget shortfall forces county office move off hill | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Budget shortfall forces county office move off hill

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A budget plan will save $230,000 by closing the Emerald Bay Road office of Child Support Services and sending a dozen employees to Placerville.

In a budget-motivated plan that has sparked outcries, 12 of 13 staff members in a county organization that helps ensure parents pay child support might be moved from South Lake Tahoe to Placerville.

The director of Child Support Services, Laura Roth, said the agency’s planned move out of its office at 924 Emerald Bay Road by July 1 will save $230,000 and will not weaken services.

But officials in related agencies disagree, forecasting increased demands on their offices while predicting that clients will get burned by appointment delays and the hunt for transportation after the reconfiguration.

Cost increases in areas such as salaries and benefits that are not covered by the state caused the $440,000 shortfall from a $5 million budget next fiscal year to force the decision, Roth said. There will be no layoffs at the Tahoe office and Roth said services will remain intact since most of the work can be done via phone and computer.

“We have every intention of providing access to our clients in Tahoe,” she said. “We’re trying to make cuts in ways that won’t affect the public.”

About 2,000 cases are assigned to the South Lake Tahoe branches of Child Support Services, which has been in the county for about two decades. On average, four people meet daily with a Tahoe caseworker, Roth said.

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In two months, pending a vote from the county board of supervisors, those people will have to meet with the lone caseworker at the other office, located on Silver Dollar Avenue.

Other agencies believe there will be a ripple effect. Jennifer Kline, a court advocate for the South Lake Tahoe’s Womens Center, said 70 percent of the center’s roughly 2,000 clients use Child Support Services to collect child-care payments and establish a visitation schedule.

“Taking it to Placerville will make more barriers for those people who need those services,” she said.

Kline said there are petitions circulating to keep the Emerald Bay office open.

Delicia Spees, executive director of the family resource center, expects a spillover effect from Child Support Services to her center.

“We don’t want to, we don’t have the personnel, we’re really short as it is, but what are we going to do?” Spees asked.

“The need isn’t going away and we need the same services they get in Placerville,” she continued. “It really is a disservice to the residents of South Lake Tahoe.”

Employees at the Emerald Bay Road office declined comment, referring media queries to Heidi Weiland, executive director of El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1.

“We’re very concerned because if this were to happen, if the Board of Supervisors were to approve this proposal from the department, it could have a tremendous impact on the families of South Lake Tahoe,” Weiland said.

Weiland said the proposed move doesn’t have an agenda date. Supervisor David Solaro did not return phone calls before press time.

Last year $15 million in child support payments were collected countywide, Roth said. The money bumped El Dorado County from sixth to fourth among statewide county collection numbers and earned Roth and her staff a commendation from the California Department of Child Support Services.

Lynn Cavanaugh, spokeswoman for the state division, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget did not provide any additional funding for county Child Support Services, making cutbacks and consolidation the norm.

“This will be the third year of no growth, basically flat funding,” Cavanaugh said. “I know that counties throughout the state are all facing this kind of challenge.”

Roth said the move was the best she could do without cutting staff that interacts with clients. The property along Emerald Bay Road is the most expensive among Child Support Services’ facilities in El Dorado County.

The rest of the budget cutbacks are undecided, Roth said.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com