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County seeks more staff to address growing social service caseloads

Washington County officials are requesting more staff next year to address increased caseloads for social service programs.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners conducted their second 2017 budget workshop after their Aug. 23 meeting. The board heard budget requests from Community Services, Public Health and Environment, and the Library System.

Dan Papin, community services director, submitted a budget request of $43,890,700. His department’s workload is growing, he said, and state dollars are not keeping pace.

“The feds continue to hold up their end of the bargain but it's frustrating since the vast majority of the mandates that we provide — and they’re not all all bad mandates, don’t get me wrong — but they are imposed by the state. Everything we do as a department is to comply with those mandates.”

Papin cited two main areas of concern:

-- an increase in applications to MnSure, the state run health care exchange for which the county pays 50 percent of the cost to administer;

-- a jump in assessments for MnCHOICES, an independent living support program for the elderly and disabled.

While the MnCHOICES program is paid for by state and federal tax dollars, Papin said they need to hire an administrative worker to deal with a bigger caseload.

“We don’t mind paying our share,” he said. “They continually have reduced the state share, added more county share, yet the mandates haven’t changed. So it falls on the backs of the county commissioners to balance the budget.”

The property tax increase requested is 1.9 percent in Community Services.

“We do shift dollars where we can to minimize the impact on taxpayers,” Papin said. “Not everything translates to a levy increase.”

The youngest and oldest citizens in the county continue to be exploited, Papin said. He is asking the Washington County Board to hire a full-time adult protection social worker to help respond to a 54 percent increase in adult elderly exploitation reports over a two-year period.

He also cited increased caseloads in child protection investigations and family assessments, which are on pace to exceed last year’s.

Public health

The 2017 budget request submitted by Lowell Johnson, director of the Department of Public Health and Environment, will pay for a countywide assessment of sewage treatment systems and continue the transition of the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Center to county ownership and management.

They will evaluate the county’s role in community yard waste and composting services, and update the county’s Solid Waste Management Master Plan, Johnson said.

“Waste management is clearly a health initiative, not just engineering and convenience,” Johnson said.

They also will work on best practice approaches to support healthy aging for adults older than age 60.

Johnson requested the hiring of an additional environmental specialist, who would conduct food and beverage inspections at restaurants, lodging, pools, campgrounds and non-community water establishments.

They’ve seen a 65 percent growth in licensed establishments, he said.

Libraries

The Library’s budget recommendations focus on implementing the library’s strategic and facilities plan and investing in the library collection, equipment and staffing. There will also be a focus on library services for aging adults and reducing turnaround time for materials processing from six to two weeks.

Separate from the 2017 budget discussion, commissioners last week approved a $56,770 contract with CIVICTechnologies, a marketing analytics firm. They will gather information to help the library make decisions about services, events and classes tailored to each library service area, and focus marketing efforts to reach residents.

“At the end of the day, I’m not interested in how many people came through that door or how many items were checked out,” library services Director Keith Ryskoski said. “I’m more interested in how do these experiences impact people's lives?”

The County Board will set a preliminary levy in September. The levy cannot be increased after it is adopted but it could be decreased before a final budget and levy are approved in December.

The overall levy increase sought by staff is 3.49 percent, the same as was requested in 2015 and 2016. County officials note that the county tax base has grown 3 percent over the past year and further new construction will add to the tax base.

The median value home in Washington County is $243,200, up 1.1 over the previous year.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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