November 21, 2018
The Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has for nearly 30 years provided funding to support the Mercer Island YFS City Department’s social service programs. As the Foundation matured, it provided ten percent of the MIYFS Department’s budgeted expenses. The Foundation has also raised money to establish reserves to anticipate economic downturns and, in the last 5-6 years, raised enough to award MIYFS “over and above” funding for significant emergent needs that were not anticipated, nor included, in the biennial budget cycles. Such emergent needs in the past have included funding of a second, half-time licensed counselor, a community needs assessment to identify growing areas of concern, purchase of a box truck for the Thrift Store to accept large, high value donations and much more.
At the City Council meeting on November 20, 2018, the City Council provisionally approved a 2019-2020 biennial budget including the following cuts to the MIYFS Department:
1) one elementary school counselor beginning in Fall of 2019 and another elementary counselor in 2020, reducing onsite mental health coverage at each elementary school from full to half time;
2) reduction of the geriatric counselor from full to half time;
3) reduction of an administrative assistant from full to half time.
The overall savings from these staged cuts is $120,006 in 2019 and $210,902 in 2020. At the meeting, the Council also approved an additional $1.2M in budget cuts from the overall City budget. It is reasonable to believe that some of those additional cuts will affect MIYFS Department services as well, but the Foundation will not know the specifics until the City staff recommends areas for additional cuts.
The Foundation Board had already earmarked funds to be used for emergent needs beginning in 2019, including the following:
• Continuing to fund a second half-time licensed mental health counselor at IMS
• Adding a half-time high intensity case manager to coordinate care for the most challenged clients
• Increasing the Healthy Youth Coordinator from half to full time to address vaping and other substance use issues
• Funding a .25 senior community outreach organizer to help connect seniors with services
• Increasing need-based emergency assistance funding
Based on discussions with the MIYFS Department Director, retention of the geriatric counselor and the elementary school counselors are of higher priority than expanding services in the enumerated areas.
It is with a heavy heart that we make the decision to forego the opportunity to provide more optimal social services to our population and to redirect this funding to sustain current baseline services. The Foundation is not in a financial position to provide funding – even in the short term – to cover all of the proposed biennial cuts from the MIYFS Department budget, assuming the Department will absorb a share of the additional $1.2M unspecified cuts. Given the immediate need for continuity in Senior Services, the Foundation pledges immediately to fund $107,734 to restore the geriatric counselor to a full time position in 2019-2020. In addition, the Foundation will, as requested by the City Council, confer with other Island institutions to establish a plan for maintaining continuity of the elementary school counselors through 2020, the total cost of which is $156,367, and beyond. The proposed cuts in counselors will not occur until June 2019, so we have a short window of time to make a plan to fund those counselors until a long term solution can be crafted. We do so mindful that the uncertainty faced by the staff in those positions may cause them to seek alternative employment to the great detriment of our community and will proceed with haste. We also note that MIYFS Department priorities may shift depending on the final list of cuts for the biennium.
The Foundation stresses to the City and its residents that the Foundation cannot be the sole funder of these eliminated positions past 2020 without massively increasing the amount of funds it raises from its donors. The current Foundation donor base is a relatively small percentage of the Island population that benefits from these services and generous as they are, it is asking a lot for them to shoulder the entire burden. A long term solution for funding the social services that the community values ideally requires broad support from the taxpayers or in lieu of that, stepped up contributions from private donors and/or partnership institutions. The Foundation’s resolve is buoyed by our faith in the community’s understanding of the value of YFS services as well as its generosity. We believe that bridging the gap in funding, to the extent possible, over the next two years is the right course of action for the time being and urge the City Council to achieve popular consensus on a comprehensive financing solution that preserves all of our quality MIYFS services into the future.