As Child Welfare organizations across Ohio and the nation are seeing a continuous rise in their caseloads, it is causing these government entities to run low on cash. Adams County Children Services and the Wilson Children’s Home are no different. Recently, the Informer requested information from Jill Wright, Executive Director of the agency upon learning that the department was burning through cash and resources.
Other county officials were notified last month that there could be fiscal issues at the agency, when concerns were expressed to the Board of County Commissioners that there could be a lack of carry-over for the agency in 2020. Carry-over is often used by governmental departments to cover shortfalls from year to year if the need arises. It is unclear, what, if anything the Board of Commissioners would do for Children Services should it run out of money. Public records reviewed by the Informer show that Commissioner Diane Ward has attended several Children Service board meetings, however, those records do not indicate that discussions were held regarding the possible lack of funding. Holly Johnson, Director of Economic Development for the Board of County Commissioners also serves as Chair of the Children Services Board. Johnson’s position is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. In addition, the board is made up of the following members: Tena Nickell, Hannum Taylor, Hart Wallingford, and Jodie Agnew.
In the 2019-2021 biennial state budget, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly granted millions in additional funding to child welfare agencies throughout the state, however, Wright wasn’t sure it would be enough to fill the gap. “The state of Ohio operates on a fiscal year of July 1-June 30. The federal government operates on a fiscal year of October 1-September 30. Our County operates on a fiscal year of January 1 – December 31,” said Wright. “We are very grateful of the financial investment Governor DeWine and our legislators have made in child welfare. Our anticipated increase in the State Child Protection Allocation is $322,389.”
Wright said the additional funding will have a positive impact on the budget, however, the number of custody episodes have increased 57.25% during the past two years. The costs associated with the rise in custody cases have increased 53% from 2017 to 2018, and the agency is seeing another 15% increase in 2019. “Currently, we have 122 children in placement due to child abuse and neglect issues, as compared to 105 in 2018, and 63 in 2017,” said Wright.
What if the department runs out of money? According to Wright, the agency along with Wilson Children’s Home operates on revenue received from local tax levies, state funding, and federal funding. If the agency is unable to pay for basic operations, the Informer asked, then who provides the funds necessary to provide for the children of Adams County? Wright responded, “I do not believe any entity “has to” provide the funding, however, I know historically Adams County leaders, and the community is supportive of ensuring the abused and neglected children receive services to keep them safe from further trauma.”
Last year, Adams County voters approved a Replacement Levy of 1.3 mills for the agency. According to the Adams County Auditor, the gross real and public utility tax collected for the levy in 2019 was $710,025 and the prior year was $448,379, which was an increase of $261,646, or 58%. The increase was due to the ballot measure being levied as a replacement rather than a renewal. According to records, the agency has lost or will lose approximately $410,000 due to the public utility tax losses. However, with the replacement levy, the agency was made whole on levy dollars.
As of September 30th, the department had spent or encumbered 81.58% of money available, with three months to go in the year – there are reasons to be concerned moving into the next fiscal year.
The Informer will continue to follow the budgetary concerns at the agency.