Contra Costa forced to make cuts

March 17, 2009 5:52:13 PM PDT
Hundreds of people packed a meeting of the Contra Costa supervisors Tuesday; the supervisors are in the final stages of deciding some controversial budget cuts.

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"These are impossible times with limited options," Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf said.

Rupf summed up the situation in Contra Costa County, where supervisors heard public testimony on plan to make $50 million in budget cuts. The most controversial move being considered would eliminate preventative health care for 5,500 illegal immigrant adults. It is a move county doctors call immoral and short-sighted.

"It will also mean longer waiting times in emergency for everyone else in emergency rooms because all the undocumented patients would basically be seeking all their medical care there," Dr. Camilo Zaks said. Zaks works at the Contra Costa Medical Center.

Supervisors hope to fill the expected service gap with help from private hospitals like John Muir and Sutter Delta.

"We want to make sure that residents of this county who are very sick and have nowhere else to turn are able to see doctors for their conditions," Supervisor Susan Bonilla said.

The other major cuts would come in law enforcement, including eliminating 56 sheriff deputies and 18 district attorneys by the end of the year. The cuts in the DA's office are about half of what was proposed two weeks ago.

"Please, if that's a soft landing, don't ever drop me on my head," District Attorney Robert Kochly said.

Supervisors must also decide whether to cut funding to the library, arts programs and the University of California Cooperative Extension. That would effectively eliminate the county's 100-year-old 4-H program.

In all, supervisors could eliminate 200 jobs and dozens of program in Contra Costa County. They are scheduled to vote on a final budget package March 31, 2009.

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