Butler County Children Services plans next levy

Interim Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison says a renewal of the 2-mill levy that brings in about $13 million is all that is necessary, not an increase.

Butler County spent $24 million on children’s services last year, including the local levy money which makes up 59 percent of the agency’s revenues.

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The current levy, approved by 61 percent of voters in 2012, expires next year. If voters do not renew the levy, the agency will be in the negative almost $5 million by 2019 and $60 million by 2023, according JFS Finance Director Barb Fabelo’s projections.

Not only would the levy funds be lost, but so would a majority of federal funding, which requires matching money from the levy.

“Levy failure would mean a skeleton operation with only mandated services,” Fabelo told the Journal-News.

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Morrison previously said he may have to ask commissioners to approve a higher levy amount in order to deal with the opiate epidemic.

“It’s not that we’re licking the problem or anything like that, but we are managing to deal with the problem successfully,” Morrison told the Journal-News. “We continue to work all the non-heroin cases largely without removing the children and placing the children in foster care, so our in-custody numbers continue to fall.”

Of the 355 children in the care of Butler County Children Services, 161, or 43 percent, come from families where drugs were cited as the reason for the removal of the children.

Many changes have occurred at the agency over the past several years that have produced positive results both financially and for families. They changed their case flow and have taken advantage of Medicaid expansion by using providers for services once done in-house.

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Morrison resurrected the Family Preservation program last year which allows them to bill Medicaid. It also is an opportunity to keep families together which keeps costs down. In 2014 placement costs were $12 million the projection for this year is $8.8 million.

The staffing at BCCS is also down with 148 people versus 165 in 2012. There are 15 vacancies in the department, but that doesn’t mean they will all be filled, Morrison said.

“We don’t just automatically fill things because they are there,” Morrison said. “We’re always looking for opportunities to save some dollars, we’re always looking for opportunities to shift costs away from levy funds… any way we can. We look at our levy dollars as being precious.”

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young praised the agency that only a couple years ago was staring down a $4 million deficit.

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“We’ve seen that not so long ago, 2014 our funds had run extremely low,” he said. “We’ve seen the recovery that they’ve made through just an incredible amount of hard work and leadership from the commission and leadership from Bill, from Julie from others in the organization and truly leadership from your staff that adopted these policies.”