United Way to Reduce Funding to Local Groups : Charity: Assistance to social service agencies will be cut by 27% this year. Some programs might be eliminated.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

United Way of Ventura County reported Thursday that it will reduce funding to local social agencies by 27% this year, the biggest budget cut in the organization's 42-year history.

"This could mean the elimination of some programs," said Mario J. de los Cobos, president of the United Way board of directors. "We all have to look at our budgets."

A poor economy, increased demand for services and conservative estimates for next fall's campaign have forced United Way to contemplate cutting about $900,000 worth of funds to its 64 member agencies.

"It's the toughest downturn since the Great Depression," said allocations division Chairman Richard Wittenberg, who is also chief administrative officer for Ventura County.

Administrators will determine the budget cuts by Wednesday, Wittenberg said. He said a review of the budgets and programs of agencies that provide food, shelter, housing, medical and educational services to county residents will be concluded by then.

Some organizations will receive greater cuts than others, Wittenberg said. But few charity administrators were comforted by his words.

"Any cuts are going to be significant," said Marlene Spencer, executive director of Help of Ojai, which provides services to the elderly.

"It's going to have a definite detrimental impact," said Ruthanne Begun, executive director of the Conejo Youth Employment Service in Thousand Oaks.

Begun said the struggling economy has reduced her agency's funding by $20,000. "We all have an increased client load and our ability to provide those services is down," Begun said.

Many charity leaders said they will reduce work hours and increase fund drives to alleviate the expected cuts.

The Santa Paula Boys and Girls Club, which receives 70% of its funding from United Way, might have to shorten the workweek of its four part-time staffers from 40 hours to 32 hours, program director Ed Ramirez said.

"That's the only thing we can reduce," said Ramirez, who said the organization serves about 600 youths ranging in age from 5 to 18.

Grethe Rivera, executive director of the Hospice of the Conejo in Thousand Oaks, said she is considering more fund-raising drives and implementing a comprehensive cut to salvage programs.

"The only option we have is to go out and raise money on our own," said Rivera, who said United Way represents 15%, or $20,250, of the hospice's $135,000 budget.

United Way needs to change its fund-raising strategy and rely less on projected donations, officials said.

The organization fell about $800,000 short of its $6.6-million goal in March. Officials said they expect to raise only $4.7 million for the 1993-94 campaign, but have not yet determined a monetary goal.

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