Budget Woes Threaten Clinic And Fort Tejon State Park

By Patric Hedlund

Even as our local schools lay off teachers and struggle to slash hundreds of thousands of dollars from their budgets, California’s fiscal problems are threatening to close Fort Tejon State Park and—according to the director of Clinica Sierra Vista—could have a serious impact on the operation of the Frazier Mountain Community Health Clinic located in Lebec.

The state is expected to “borrow” $2 billion dollars from cities and counties to help spackle over the gaping $24 billion hole in its budget. That money, roughly 8 percent of the property tax revenue received by local governments, from payments to local agencies that provide direct services to the taxpayers, as done by the state in the 1990s. In addition to schools, cuts will be made in health services, social welfare services, parks and libraries. Fort Tejon State Historic Park in Lebec, a widely appreciated asset to this region, has been named on a list of state parks nominated for closure.

Sean Malis, coordinator of the popular living history program and Civil War reenactments at Fort Tejon, confirmed Monday, June 1 that, “Yes, Fort Tejon is on the proposed list. But the park is still doing business as usual. No changes to activities, schedules or services have been made. Also, the visitor figures [on the closure list] are off by 100 percent.” The list says 34,000 people use the park annually. Malis’ figures have been closer to 75,000.

The director of Clinica Sierra Vista, which provides about 9,000 patient visits to mountain residents annually, said he anticipates two to five million dollars to be cut from the health network’s $68 million overall annual budget— between five and ten percent.

Steve Schilling said mountain children covered by the state-funded “Healthy Families” program (for uninsured children) will again be uninsured when the program is eliminated.

“We also provide behavioral and mental health services through Kern County that are slated for elimination…. Pregnant or parenting teenagers programs are on the chopping block. The “Adolescent Family Life” and “CalLearn” programs are also slated for elimination and there are probably a few dozen clients in those programs throughout the mountain area.”

The subsidized family planning program is also slated for a reduction.

Schilling added that the budget debate is being waged right now in Sacramento, so no specifics have yet been defined. “The legislature and governor are going to continue to debate this matter for most of the month of June. I’m guessing we’ll have a budget by July 1. If we don’t, we’re completely bankrupt. We probably won’t start feeling the effects here until sometime in July,” Schilling said.

–Gary Meyer and Katy Penland contributed to this report

This is part of the June 05, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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