Budget cutbacks trickle down to Axis 1

Doing more work with less resources is a mantra that many businesses and government agencies are getting to know all the better with the slowing economy.

It's a situation that has trickled down to Axis 1 of Barnwell as well.

During this year, Axis 1 has laid off seven employees. Two of the layoffs occurred within the last two weeks, said Cheryl Long, the agency's director.

Additionally, the drug and alcohol treatment agency will be closed three days, Nov. 26, Dec. 31 and Jan. 2 as part of  six days of furlough in which the staff will not be paid, she said.

The other three undesignated days staff members will take off during December, Long said.

The agency will be closed during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day as well as Nov. 28, Dec. 24 and 26, according to a press release Axis 1 issued.

"I have no intention to close the office further than these days," Long said.

The agency's office hours will remain the same unless future budget cutbacks warrant a change or further closings, she said.

People in need of emergency assistance can call the 24-hour crisis helpline at (803) 259-3333 during the days the agency is closed and during the holidays, the release stated.

Long said the agency was forced to take these measures due to cutbacks from the state and its other funding sources.

In the last 18 months, the Axis 1 staff has shrunk from 22 to 15 people. The agency had nine treatment counselors but is now down to three, she said.

The other effect these cutbacks are causing is that now counselors are having to double up on duties and perform clerical work, further decreasing the time they have to treat people, Long said.

"When my staff delivers services, they are like brain surgeons - they give services no one else gives," she said.

While her staff has been reduced, the workload has remained the same, Long said.

"We used to not have a waiting list, but now we do," Long said.

Long said she finds that particularly distressing since some clients need help right then.

Axis 1 could only trim back its budget so much in terms of travel expenses and office supplies. Training has been curtailed, but only to a degree, she said.

"The largest part of our budget is manpower. You can only cut training so much. Some training is mandated to keep certifications. There's some training you can't cut," Long said.

Axis 1 is receiving less money from Barnwell County, the state, United Way and the school districts than it used to get, she said.

Losing money from the government can have a multiplier effect since it means losing matching funds from some other funding source, Long said.

Long is pursuing grants more persistently, although grant money is often earmarked for specific projects and can not just be added into the agency's general fund, she said.

"I'm working harder to get that money," she said of grants.

Earlier this month Gov. Mark Sanford's office issued a statement that the state Board of Economic Advisors has reduced the estimate for state revenues by another 2 percent, which means state agencies will likely see more budget cutbacks.