Challenges ahead for DPHE, Community Services next year

The two Washington County agencies at the forefront of dealing with the health and safety of county residents face the dual challenges of changing regulations and a struggling economy that has more residents seeking help, the Board of Commissioners were told Tuesday.

Community Services Director Dan Papin and Department of Public Health and Environment Director Lowell Johnson presented their departments’ 2013 budget proposals to commissioners at a workshop.

Programs under Community Services represent the county’s largest expenditure, with a proposed 2013 budget of more than $38.7 million, up more than $1.2 million from the department’s $37.5 million 2012 budget.

Nearly half the Community Services budget, almost $17 million, comes from the county tax levy. About one-third, or slightly more than $19 million, is federal money. The remainder of the department’s budget is state funds, money from other sources and less than one percent from the fund balance.

Almost 40 percent, or nearly $15 million, of the DCS budget is spent on social services. Another $10.3 million, or nearly 27 percent is spent on economic support. Mental and chemical health treatment costs account for more than 20 percent of DCS expenses, followed by $3.3 million, or 8 percent, spent on Workforce Center programs; almost $2 million, or 5 percent on administration costs and $188,200, or less than one-half percent, on Veterans services.

For DPHE, almost 50 percent of revenue in its proposed $13.3 million 2013 budget comes from the county environmental charge. Federal and state grants make up 22 percent, the levy and fees both make up 10 percent, licensing 8 percent and other sources one percent.

Johnson said DPHE’s reliance on the county environmental charge gives the department flexibility in spending money.

Environmental issues account for 62 percent of DPHE expenditures, according to Johnson.

“People are concerned about air quality, water quality,” he said.

Other DPHE spending is healthy communities at 16 percent, infrastructure at 8 percent, infectious disease at 4 percent and emergency preparedness at 2 percent.

Papin admitted that his department’s revenues rely “disproportionally” on the tax levy. That reliance on the levy, he said, is a result of cuts in state and federal aid programs.

Those cuts come as the DCS continues to see increasing numbers of residents seeking county help for health care and food since 2008 recession, Papin said. DCS figures for May show 9,431 health care and 4,315 food support cases.

“Our health care caseload continues to grow,” he said. “Our staffing has remained relatively flat. It’s the same story in food support. We’ve seen a 120 percent increase since the start of the recession.”

Because current DCS staff is spending “too many man hours to determine” applicants’ eligibility, Papin has requested two more eligibility specialists.

In the mental-chemical health area, Papin wants to add a mental health case manager, “waiver” case manager and family services worker.

In social services, Papin said DCS workers are seeing more financial exploitation cases involving elderly residents; more requests for aid from parents with autistic children, and a growing list of child care assistance cases.

“Child care assistance has a waiting list of 550. It’s getting larger,” he said.

However, Papin is confident his department can address the challenges before it next year.

“We think this budget will position us well to manage the challenges in 2013,” he said.

DPHE’s Johnson said his department’s challenges include providing health care to county jail inmates; more complex food license requests, and working with businesses on waste reduction.

“Nursing visits to the jail continue to be demanding for us,” he said. “We’ve been very diligent in holding those costs down.”

Johnson is requesting a new food and beverage license inspector to keep up with a rising demand in those licenses that forced DPHE to use temporary staff to meet demand.

“Another area we’re seeing an increase is in the complexity of food licenses,” he said, adding that some requests involve food trucks, outdoor dining and open ovens.

DPHE also plans to continue working with cities on waste reduction ideas, Johnson said.

“Businesses and industry are starting to realize that waste management is a financial issue,” he said.

But one of DPHE’s biggest challenges is meeting community expectations related to healthy living and aging, Johnson said.

“Our community is continuing to change. We’ve got to figure out what our role is in a healthy, aging population,” he said.