County Building Plan To Get Tobacco Funds
By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer
With a promise that nonprofit organizations aimed at combating tobacco use will be funded for at least three more years, county supervisors voted Tuesday to use $43 million in tobacco settlement money on construction projects in Vallejo and Fairfield.
The Solano County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to use $43 million from the $53.5 million endowment from a 1998 class-action tobacco settlement to fund the $58 million Twin Campus projects - a new health and social services building in Vallejo and a laboratory in Fairfield.
"What it comes down to is a business decision," Supervisor John Vasquez said.
While use of tobacco money for the Fairfield and Vallejo projects was approved, supervisors have allocated $3 million to fund community organizations that combat tobacco and alcohol use in 2008-09 and made it a priority to secure $6 million for the following two years.
That $6 million will come from the county's General Fund reserve if necessary, but other funding sources such as grants will be explored. The programs traditionally have been funded on a three-year basis with 2008 marking the end of the most recent cycle.
Supervisor Barbara Kondylis cast the lone dissenting vote and expressed her concern over those programs after the three years. Although the current board has made it a priority to keep the programs funded, Kondylis said future boards may not see it the same way.
"Three of us are up for re-election soon. There are no guarantees. That's a majority of the board," Kondylis said. "We can make all the promises, but can't commit the next board to do it. If the budget goes sour, the first thing they will do is say 'sorry.' '
Vasquez agreed and said he hopes those who come after the current board will honor the commitment.
"We can create policy now and any given Tuesday a board can change it," Vasquez said. "People tell me 'It's not you I don't trust, it's those who come after you.' '
Originally designated for treatments for smokers, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and other health services, county staff had recognized that using the tobacco money for construction could save the county $23 million by avoiding interest payments and transaction costs on the Twin Campus projects.
The interest from the endowment has produced $3 million annually that has funded nonprofit organizations that help the community combat tobacco and alcohol abuse. Because of this, supervisors at a Dec. 4 meeting postponed a decision until staff could find alternate sources to fund those programs.
Much of Tuesday's debate centered around those programs and many from the community paraded to the podium to voice their concerns. Ivonne Vaughn, senior program coordinator of alcohol and tobacco for the Vacaville Police Department, said cities would suffer if this money was taken away.
"We have seen some dramatic changes in Vacaville," Vaughn said. "I'm so pleased to see you struggling with the decision. This is heart work, not hard work."
Supervisor Jim Spering said there was no reason for the public to think the board wanted to do away with the programs.
"I don't know of any board member here who doesn't support these programs," Spering said. "This has been portrayed that the board is trying to gut these programs, but that is not the case."
Danny Bernardini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
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