County Human Services hears budget proposals

The Marquette County Human Services Committee met on September 12th, hearing budget proposals from Veterans Services and the general department.

Veterans Service Officer Kris Bergh reported a $54,204 budget increase for 2023, about half of which was due to an increase in the salary category for moving the deputy officer from part-time to full-time, along with associated benefits.

Bergh also briefly reported in the increases in veterans benefits received here in Marquette County and/or to the VA hospital on behalf of local veterans from the Veterans Administration in 2021, which amounted to around $1 million. Pension compensation totaled nearly $7.8 million here and around $250,000 was received toward education and vocational education benefits for veterans and their dependents.

The committee passed a motion to approve his budget, sending it on to the Executive and Finance Committee.

Bergh also introduced his new Assistant Officer, Brandon, a Navy veteran and member of the Army National Guard in Wisconsin.

In the past month, Bergh’s office has closed 19 cases, with 66 others still in progress. New VA guidelines are sharply increasing the number of claims filed for healthcare benefits and other compensation allowed by the new law. These mostly affect veterans from Vietnam and Gulf Wars, along with people who served at Camp Lejeune. His office is working on sending out letters to those people to make them aware of the changes in benefits eligibility for them.

Mandy Stanley presented her 2023 budget, with a figure just under $6.3 million. It proposes an additional $80,000 in tax levy for 2023.

Some of their challenges for the coming year include potential costs for a juvenile that is being place in an out-of-state facility due to not being able to find a place in Wisconsin or neighboring states, along with some costly adult long-term placements, and a $26,000 increase in programming due to new software and other service upgrades that are needed next year.

In addition, Stanley has asked for 4.9 additional full-time equivalent employees including a children’s long-term support case manager, a new youth mentor, a new child protective services/youth justice social worker, a new behavioral support worker, a new half-time meal transporter, and a .15% increase for the dining site cooks to bring them up to full-time.

Committee member Judi Nigbor questioned the practice of allowing staff to purchase meals from the elderly meal program at $3 each, and said she would not support the increases for the cooks or the additional meal transporter. She said it is already hard to find staff and won’t support allowing staff to purchase the meals. She later added that she does support the program but wants to see more data.

Jennifer Vote of the Financial Unit responded that while you could eliminate the employee meals, it would not eliminate the need for putting additional limitations on the meal program. She said the program is already stretched to the point where wait lists will have to be put in place because they cannot serve any more people, particularly for the home-delivered meals program. Meals are home-delivered to residents who cannot come to the meal sites and includes people with health limitations and transportation issues. She said the majority are screened and need to qualify for this service. Later comments reminded that these may be people who might otherwise need to leave their home and find a facility or move in with family.

Mary Walters said she supports the meals program. “I know how important this program is. The need is increasing. There are more and more vulnerable elderly and disabled people in this county,” and noted that this will increase over time. “I feel this is something we truly, truly need to support and put in this budget.” She also pointed to the benefit of giving the homebound residents an opportunity for socialization when they have a driver coming to their home, possibly the only person they see on a daily basis.

Al Gibeaut agreed, stating, “As time goes on, it’s going to be more and more needed.” He also pointed to the connection Marquette County can make with its citizens, saying, “…it makes people aware that, yup, I live in a county where they care about me.” He also felt that allowing staff to purchase meals benefits employee retention.

Dave Benson said he has personally seen how important the meal deliveries are to four persons in particular that he looks after. “I’d actually be asking for more of an increase,” he told the group.

ADRC Director Jan Krueger reminded members that the expectation is that for people purchasing meals, the expectation is that is you are under 60 and not disabled, then you are volunteering within the program.

Krueger said they are delivering around 95 meals to homes each weekday, and about 40 meals to congregate sites. From January 2020 to now, there has been a 20% overall increase in meals in both parts of the program. Since 2019, the increase in home-delivered meals is 30%. This year alone is seeing an 11% overall increase. Staff meals can go from zero in a day to a high of 12-15, but Krueger said most days average about 6 meals.

She added that 51% of Marquette county households include a person over age 60, all of whom qualify to get meals from the nutrition program. The Older Americans Act does allow anyone under age 60 who is not handicapped to purchase a meal for $3.00 at a dining site.

The committee did pass a motion to approve the budget and sent it on to the Executive and Finance committee, with Nigbor voting no.

In other business, Annett Mooney reported on the Energy Assistance Program, funded by the federal government. This primarily provides heating assistance for low-income households with a one-time cash benefit that goes directly to the vendor except for those homes that heat with wood. There is also a weatherization program managed by CAP Services, as well as a furnace service program where repairs and replacements are serviced through a contracted vendor.

Mooney said about 400 of the county’s 850 case households include elderly or disabled persons. Additional programs that are available include one for crisis payments for households facing disconnections of utilities and a low-income water assistance program to help pay for water and sewer bills through a statewide agency.

Many of the department’s other units also gave their monthly updates, including Clinical Services. Dawn Woodard reported that they are beginning their annual programming in the Montello and Westfield school districts. In August, they received 40 crisis calls and had 3 emergency detentions. Four residents are in long-term residential placements. They had 28 referrals to their clinic and 16 remain on a wait list. Much of their work now is also focusing on changes in the state’s administrative code. They are reviewing policies and doing trainings for those.

The Food Bank reported 318 households were served in August, representing 655 total people. They received 416 lbs. of produce from the Giving Garden at the food bank site, along with 112 lbs. of donated produce from personal gardens. Vote said a recent fundraiser at the Puckaway Pig Fest went very well, with numbers still being tallied as of this meeting date.