Commissioners debate FHS, DSS funding
Published 4:38 pm Friday, June 7, 2013
Public hearing tonight on 2013-2014 budget
Polk residents will have the opportunity tonight to speak their opinions on the board of commissioners’ proposed 2013-2014 budget with two of the most discussed topics being funding to Foothills Humane Society (FHS) and a requested position for the county’s department of social services (DSS).
Commissioners met June 3 and heard a second request from FHS officials to reconsider an increase in funding of 15 percent, or an additional $14,580 from its current $97,200. Commissioner Ray Gasperson also asked the board to reconsider hiring a child social worker for DSS.
Commissioners are holding a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus.
After commissioners initially turned down a request for additional FHS funding, FHS executive director Selena Coffey sent a letter to the county to reconsider.
Coffey said FHS is currently paying $108.66 per Polk County animal intake for the mandatory 72-hour hold period, which means FHS is subsidizing approximately $24 per animal.
During the June 3 meeting, the majority of commissioners expressed concern over who was paying for approximately 600 animals FHS took in from South Carolina. Coffey answered that donors pay for those animals. According to FHS’s budget, 16 percent of the shelter’s revenue comes from Polk County, 74 percent comes from grants and donations, 5 percent from shelter-generated income and five percent from investment income. In 2012, FHS took in 993 animals brought in by residents and 177 from the Polk County animal control.
Commissioner Ted Owens said he is concerned and wonder how FHS handles the cost of animals taken in from South Carolina and who pays for those animals, such as Spartanburg County.
Coffey said FHS does not have a contract with Spartanburg or Greenville County, who each have shelters. She said people from areas such as Landrum, Campobello and Gowensville bring animals to FHS for fear if they take them to other shelters the animals will be euthanized. Coffey also said FHS has large donors from South Carolina residents.
In 2012, FHS had a 98.9 percent live-release rate.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said with Polk County providing 16 percent of FHS’s budget, if they compare the numbers for just dogs and cats that come from Polk County that’s relatively low. He said the service FHS provides is reflective of the community we live in.
“We have a citizenship here of folks who do not want to live in a county with a shelter who ends up euthanizing,” said Gasperson. “And you’re doing it at a fraction of a cost. For me, it’s the best of all worlds. You are the bargain of bargains.”
Coffey said part of the need for more funding is the rising cost of medicines. FHS officials say it cost an estimated $108.66 to care for an animal for the mandated 72-hour hold period and with the requested increase, FHS is asking for the county to provide only $95.54 per animal.
Funding for FHS has increased from Polk County over the years, with funding increasing from $87,569 in fiscal year ending 2011 to $97,192 in fiscal year ending 2012, according to Polk County’s budget (see chart page ?????).
Commissioners have also discussed on a few occasions a requested child social worker position to re-established next year. The position was previously provided and deleted a few years ago due to threats of less in state funding.
Gasperson asked commissioners on June 3 to reconsider allowing for the position, which would cost the county $21,658 due to state and federal reimbursements for DSS positions.
“How can we be talking about not being willing to really find the means to deal with this position when we know it will make a significant difference,” said Gasperson.
Gasperson said he fears what could happen to a child’s life and said DSS director Lou Parton found the money in her budget through savings the position would create. He asked that at a minimum commissioners consider funding the position in January, which would mean half the costs for next year’s budget.
Commissioner Owens said the position request has come up the last two years and he doesn’t understand why it wasn’t funded two years ago or last year.
“It bothers me that you say we should fund it this year and you didn’t fund it last year,” Owens told Gasperson.
Gasperson said he has already admitted he wished he and previous boards would have funded the position previously.
“I said I feel badly that I did not push harder,” Gasperson said.
Commissioner chair Michael Gage said it’s not that the board doesn’t want to help DSS but the county had surpluses in the budget the last two years and now has less money coming in.
Gasperson asked commissioners to speak to DSS officials and consider filling the position later.
Gage said he has no problem sitting down with DSS at any time of the year.
Owens said he knows DSS is doing a good job but doesn’t understand why Gasperson after three years (of needing the position) is pushing it now.
“It was just as important three years ago,” Owens said. “We have a different budget than you did and y’all turned it down.”
Owens said there’s nothing keeping the DSS director from coming back and asking for the position later in the year.
The county’s proposed budget includes $436,542 in capital requests from departments that commissioners plan to take out of its fund balance for next fiscal year. The county is also proposing a ¼ cent tax decrease for property owners, which will take the current 52 cents per $100 of property valuation to $51.75 cents.
The county is having to make up a projected loss of approximately $500,000 next year including an expected loss of $400,000 in state hold harmless revenues as well as an estimated $100,000 in property tax revenue following the county equalization and review board granting a partial appeal to the Bright’s Creek assessed tax value.
Following tonight’s public hearing, commissioners will consider adopting the new budget, which begins July 1 during its regular June 17 meeting.