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When Brittany Willeford and more than 30 others appeared at City Hall last week to protest budget cuts to programs for disabled teens, they got the attention of Mayor Kevin Johnson and council members who hope the programs can be saved.
“We have to find a way and be creative,” Johnson said at a press conference Tuesday. “If there’s a way we can resurrect it, that’d be awesome for everybody.”
At stake are recreation and social programs that serve approximately 3,000 disabled teens and young adults each year through Access Leisure. The current program budget is $146,000, and that’s being cut from the 2012-13 budget, Program Director Annie Desalerno said Wednesday.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about that program until all of these people came out (to the council meeting),” Johnson said. “These are good, well-meaning people who don’t want a whole lot from the city.”
Willeford, an active participant in Access Leisure, told council members last week that the activities she enjoys through the programs give her a “place in the world” where she feels she is accepted despite her disabilities.
“I get to do normal things that other young adults get to do who don’t have a disability,” Willeford told the council. “I fit in thanks to Access Leisure.”
Johnson said Tuesday he thought the planned elimination of the program was due to a "revenue glitch” on the city’s part, and he's hopeful that City Manager John Shirey can find a way to prevent the program being cut.
City Councilman Jay Schenirer said he, too, would like the program to survive – but it may be a challenge to make it happen.
“These are tough times for everybody,” Schenirer said. “I’m hoping we can work with our employee groups so we can have money to do some of those things and not make the cuts we are talking about right now.”
Schenirer said he felt money saved through employee labor concessions is key to resolving funding shortfalls like the one Access Leisure is facing.
“Every dollar counts at this point,” Schenirer said.
Shirey was not immediately available for comment. Police union representatives were also not immediately available for comment.
The City Council will discuss a portion of the city budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall as part of its regular meeting. This is the first in a series of public discussions about the proposed 2012-13 city budget.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.