Swayed by concerned clients, the parents of clients and a former program manager, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors wants more answers before it considers a recommendation to close the Opportunity Center and transition its services to a private nonprofit.
The change would mark a major shift for a county that has been administering the work-opportunity program for disabled adults for nearly 60 years.
Shasta is the only county in California that still administers an Opportunity Center or similar program. Work opportunities include janitorial, grounds maintenance/landscaping, recycling sorting, mail room distributing and processing, copying and car washing.
Acting on a motion made by District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, supervisors voted 5-0 to continue exploring the idea of transitioning the Opportunity Center to a private nonprofit, but not before more discussions take place with stakeholders and questions brought up at Tuesday's meeting are answered.
“I want to echo what everybody else has said. We need a lot more work. We just need to know a lot more about how we’re going to do this, how would this transition work, how would these clients be impacted,” District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti said before the vote.
Dottie Avis, 42, told supervisors that she lives independently and the money she makes as an Opportunity Center client working on a mobile crew that cleans buildings in Redding and Anderson is her only source of income.
“I pay all my bills through my check,” Avis said.
After she spoke to supervisors, Avis told the Record Searchlight she is convinced that if the county stops running the Opportunity Center and hands it over to a nonprofit, she will be jobless, despite reassurances that the county would do everything it could to keep the clients employed.
“I don’t. I just don’t think so,” she said when asked about it.
Julie Hope, interim branch director of the county’s economic mobility department, told supervisors in a presentation that rising costs, increasing government bureaucracy and fewer clients are among the reasons for recommending a private nonprofit(s) under the umbrella of the Far Northern Regional Center administer the Opportunity Center program. The Opportunity Center also is a Far Northern Regional vendor.
Currently, the Opportunity Center has 52 full-time employees and 125 clients, down from a high of 170 clients in previous years, Hope said. Its service agreements include the cities of Anderson and Redding, the state and federal government.
Hope said they have talked to Opportunity Center employees and the clients they serve about the potential transition. She said they envision the transition would be a “warm handoff for our clients and our staff.”
Acting County Executive Officer Patrick Minturn told supervisors that he supports the transition and is confident the displaced county employees would find work elsewhere in the county.
"We've got 340 vacancies. There are jobs here for someone," Minturn said.
Meanwhile, Minturn said it’s a testament to the Opportunity Center that it has been able to compete with private nonprofits for so many years.
He gave a specific example of how a private nonprofit can do the job better.
“Think back to Shasta Regional Hospital, it was a county-run hospital. At the time there was the thinking that only county can do this and that led 30 years ago to the formation of the Shasta Community Health Center, which has really left the county hospital in the dust,” Minturn said.
But clearly those who addressed supervisors were not persuaded.
Some questioned whether a nonprofit had the capacity to absorb 125 new clients.
Jane Work, a former Opportunity Center program manager, said the county needs to do a better of job breaking down what the startup costs would be to take over the program.
“I think it will be huge, when you think about all the vehicles to buy, the equipment for a mailroom (operation), building costs,” Work said after she addressed supervisors.
Neeley Finnigan told the Record Searchlight that the Opportunity Center has helped her son get a job in janitorial services. She said nobody has been able to tell her that the job contracts the Opportunity Center has would be guaranteed if the program is transitioned to a private nonprofit.
“No one said ‘yes’” she said.
Ray Thomas, a parent of a former Opportunity Center client, told supervisors the program helped his son get a job in the private sector. He questioned whether a private nonprofit would have the clout to place disabled adults in jobs.
“They need a continued hand-up, not a warm handoff,” Thomas said.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-338-8323. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Shasta County officials weigh shifting Opportunity Center to nonprofit