County pays off debt to DJFS

Published 9:51 am Friday, September 9, 2011

Officials call Lawrence effort an example

An almost 30-year-old debt the county owed one of its own agencies has been resolved.

That’s what the Ohio Department Job and Family Services told the county commissioners this week.

“There is a zero balance,” Commission President Les Boggs said during the county commissioners regular Thursday meeting.

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Boggs had just taken office when representatives from the state JFS met with the commissioners to inform them that in essence there was a $1.2 million debt the county owed the local JFS.

“In an interview the county commission had to supply the local match for child welfare, which had not been supplied for years,” Gene Myers, director of the county JFS, said before the meeting.

Currently that county allocation is approximately $125,000 a year.

The commission had not funded that match since 1983, said Myers, who took over as director in 2006.

“The local match is for the state and federal funds used to help support foster care for children in custody,” Myers said. “The money comes from us. We have to have the dollars to have a federal-state-local input in providing services for children in foster care.”

How children’s services is funded depends on the situation of the individual child and can use a combination of the three types of funding.

“One type of child can be provided from federal and state and with some others, more has to be provided locally, if it doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements,” Myers said.

Because this local match was in arrears, the state put sanctions on the local agency limiting the amount of funds available for local use. Through belt-tightening and the commission supplying the local share, the debt was wiped out over the past two years.

County Auditor Jason Stephens was on commission during part of that period from 2000 to 2010.

“For years the state, whenever they would do their DJS audit, would pretty much slap the county on the wrist (saying) we understand but you have to get the job done,” Stephens said. “That changed when the Strickland Administration came in. They enforced the rules a little more strictly.”

At one point the state said the county’s general fund should pick up the tab.

“I knew that wasn’t a possibility,” Stephens said.

Before Strickland, JFS had such a large budget it could absorb the cost of children’s services, the auditor said.

“They carried it as an ongoing loss,” he said. “In 2009, all of a sudden they decided to change the rules on us. That is part of the reason we ran the children’s levy and it was soundly defeated 2 to 1.”

It was during the Strickland Administration that funding to children’s services was drastically cut, Stephens said.

During the commission meeting, Boggs commended those who worked on getting the deficit resolved.

“It was not my problem. It was not Mr. Pratt’s problem,” Boggs said. “It was not Mr. Myers’ problem. He had put it in the budget, but was never paid. Now the state says ‘There are a lot of counties in this situation. You did so well. We are going to use you as a model.’ We feel we have handled our finances.”