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Clayton Center asks county for financial help

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Community Service Board, which operates the Clayton Center, has informed the Clayton County Board of Commissioners that it is in dire financial straits.

The Community Service Board, tasked with providing mental health services and substance abuse help to the needy, appealed Tuesday for financial and logistical assistance.

Community Service Board members told commissioners that the organization has laid off 24 employees in the past few months, replaced some salaried employees with contract workers, and, as of Monday, instituted furloughs of one or two days per month for all full-time employees, depending on their salary.

Community Service Board member Bob Reynolds said the organization, which receives the lion's share of its funding from the state, has seen drastic cuts.

"Ten years ago, the budget for our organization was $17 million ... today it is $10 million," Reynolds said. "We know that even with the slow growth, there are more people here [in Clayton County] than there were in 1999."

Community Service Board Chief Financial Officer David Spain said the organization received no money from the state in 2009 for pharmaceutical needs. He said the state has told the Community Service Board to brace for as much as an 8 percent state funding cut in fiscal year 2010, which translates into a loss of $360,000.

"We may have to look at cutting programs that are losing money," Spain said. "We definitely won't be able to service all the people of Clayton County."

In addition to financial woes, Community Service Board leadership has recently been in flux. According to Terry Cole, interim executive director of the board, the organization's executive director, Paula Crane, is seeking treatment outside of the state for a medical condition. He has filled in as the Community Service Board's interim executive director since Aug. 20.

"With the furloughs and the layoffs, were going to save about $1.2 million from our budget," Cole said. "Tomorrow, we are going to have to look at ways of cutting another $300,000 from our budget. It's really tough right now. We're trying to stay in the black, because right now we're operating in the red."

According to Cole, the Community Service Board employs 230 people spread out across five major offices and several residential treatment homes. During Tuesday's meeting, Cole asked the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to consider relocating and centralizing its operations to Annex 3 of the Clayton County Historic Courthouse.

"We operate in a lot of small offices and that's a lot of our budget," Cole said.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said over the past year, the Board of Commissioners has tried to address the financial challenges facing the Community Service Board. While Bell did not pledge financial assistance from the county, he called for a financial audit of the organization and said he would urge the Board of Commissioners to relocate the Community Service Board's offices to one central location.

"We've been told through various persons over there that there were various budget issues," Bell said in an interview. "The [Community Service] Board was in such disarray that we couldn't get an answer. I believe all but one of them were replaced. I am requesting an audit."

In another matter at Tuesday's meeting, the Board of Commissioners voted to accept grants on behalf of several Clayton County courts. Among those getting help is the Clayton County Adult Felony Court, which received $79,000 from the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia to start a Drug Court program.

Clayton County State and Superior Court Administrator Yolanda Lewis said Clayton County is the only metro Atlanta county without an Adult Felony Drug Court. She said the funds will help purchase drug testing supplies, and pay for patient care and surveillance of offenders in the Drug Court program.

"We have large number of individuals who not only have a substance abuse problem, but continue to come back into our court system because of an underlying drug problem," Lewis said. "They've never had that problem treated and therefore, we tend to see them over and over again. Now, with the acceptance of these funds, we hope by the first of October to actually take in our first participants."

In addition, the Clayton County State Court received $17,185 from the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia for its DUI Court. No matching funds are required of the county. The Clayton County Juvenile Court also received $47,707 through the Georgia Department of Human Resources for its Court Appointed Special Advocates program. The county is expected to match the Human Resources grant with $14,902.