Douglas County managed to plug a $1 million hole in the 2018 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.
County officials even added $1 million to the department’s budget for 2019.
Despite that, the county could have a hole twice as large to fill this year as the department continues to face an increase in out-of-home placements and commitments as a result of the drug crisis.
“Through April 30, we are currently over budget by about $500,000, and projected out through the end of the year right now is about $2.1 million if we continue with the institutional costs,” said Joan Finckler, head accountant for the Health and Human Services Department.
That $2.1 million projected deficit was “kind of shocking” after the county faced a deficit last year and increased the budget for human services, County Administrator Ann Doucette said.
“We have children that are being placed into higher cost placements, institutions, which can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 a month depending on the child,” said Doreen Wehmas, intake and assessment supervisor with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Supervisor Larry Quam said there are a lot of incidental costs that get added to the cost of care, such as transportation and social workers’ time.
While those costs are high, Health and Human Services director Pat Schanen said Douglas County has not had to send children out of state, which could cost as much as $40,000 per month, because needed services were available in Wisconsin. She said some counties have been faced those higher costs because services weren’t available in Wisconsin.
“There are very complex needs of the children we’re seeing today, which is very different from what we were seeing 10 years ago,” Schanen said.
Supervisor Alan Jaques, chairman of the Administration Committee, said it shows that the drug culture in Douglas County is very costly and makes it very difficult for the county to provide mandated services within its budget.
“It’s not just this county,” Supervisor Doug Finn said. “It’s other counties and I don’t know how much the state is … looking at to try to alleviate this. It shouldn’t fall on local property taxes. It should be statewide.”
Finckler said while the county’s costs to provide child protective services has jumped by about 800%, the basic county allocation received from the state only increased by about 3% for the state-mandated services.
“What we’re doing is picking up the damage,” Supervisor Rosemary Lear said. “We’re paying for people who have already been damaged. What are we doing proactively to stop it?”
Right now, Schanen said, the department is functioning in crisis mode.
“When a report comes in, we have to screen it,” Wehmas said
“Not every case that comes through our door actually meets the definition where we’re required to work with the family,” Schanen said. In those cases, she said, the department refers families to available resources in the community.
It is an issue the Wisconsin Counties Human Services and Wisconsin Counties associations have been working to address, Schanen said. She said Gov. Tony Evers budget proposal included $15 million for social workers and to offset placement costs in each year of the biennial budget, half of what the associations were seeking to address the current crisis.
Supervisor Marvin Finendale questioned what share of that would come to Douglas County.
Schanen said that would depend on the methodology used to determine how the money is allocated.
“Over the last two years, $5 million was put into the system, and out of that, Douglas County got $60,000,” Schanen said.