Polk moves to create consolidated human services agency

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Polk County Board of Commissioners is moving forward with creating a consolidated human services agency with a new human services board that could create a new human services director.

Commissioners met Monday, Sept. 28 and heard from county manager Marche Pittman and county attorney Jana Berg about the recommendation.

Berg told commissioners that the state authorized all counties to consolidate human service departments such as health departments, juvenile crime, senior services, departments of social service (DSS) and veterans affairs. Berg said the consolidated departments have one director who oversees all the agencies.

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County manager Marche Pittman, the DSS director, Polk County DSS board and Berg requested the county pursue option 2 authorized by the state to create a consolidated human services board. The DSS board approved a resolution making its recommendation.

The proposed board would incorporate the county’s DSS, transportation, veterans affairs and senior center.

Pittman said the consolidation would maximize efficiency in program administration and ensure local funding is maximized across different divisions of human services. The human service board would act as advocates for all human service programs, align resources and all personnel would operate under the same set of policies, so employees would have a local voice if they have a problem with management instead of having to go through the North Carolina Office of State Personnel in Raleigh.

Pittman said after several meetings and years of discussion, the DSS director and himself feel that this consolidation will work better to serve the population that need these services. The board of commissioners passed a resolution supporting the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners legislative goals in 2011 that specifically asked the legislature to allow counties flexibility to organize local human services.

Berg reviewed the county’s options in creating a consolidated human services board per state statute.

Commissioners chose to go with option 2, which includes the county manager having the authority to hire the agency director with the advice and consent of the board. The county must also appoint a person with health director qualifications for the director position.

The recommendation is to appoint a 20-member human services board. The state allows for up to a 25-member board.

Polk is considering a 20-member board that will include one psychologist, one pharmacist, one engineer, one dentist, one optometrist, one veterinarian, one social worker, one physician, one psychiatrist, one commissioner, four consumers of human services and five members of the public (non-consumers).

Commissioners approved by a 4-1 vote (commissioner Ray Gasperson against) to move forward with the new board with commissioners directing the county manager and existing board of social services to establish a nominating committee to recruit new members to the consolidated human services board.

Commissioners plan to consider the adoption of the new board once recommendations are made. Pittman said efforts will be made to fill the new board with existing members of the DSS board as well as specific professionals required by state statute.

Commissioner chair Tom Pack said he wants to see the board composition include a law enforcement representative so the motion to move forward included ensuring a law enforcement professional as one of the required members.

Pittman said option 2 gives consumers of the service a voice with four consumers required on the board.

Gasperson said he voted against consolidating agencies at this time for one, because the board of commissioners’ primary role concerning DSS is to make sure the agency has enough money to operate.

“That’s really our only role pretty much,” Gasperson said. “We’re not involved in personnel decisions.”

The second, Gasperson said, is the creation of another director’s job and having to fund that position.

“That person will have to have some serious credentials,” said Gasperson, adding that he would want to see numbers on that position’s salary first.

Gasperson also said he recently found out about the possible consolidation and he is not ready to consider it.

Commissioner Keith Holbert, who serves on the DSS board, said he thinks the consolidation will lead to better services.

Commissioner Michael Gage said this is the same composition as the health department and he thinks it will get a great spectrum of the community, adding he thinks it’s a great idea.

Berg said the hope of the consolidation is for the county to fill and stop any gaps in services.

Berg said there might be a client of one agency that can be offered another level of service if needed such as transportation or food. She also said there could be some cases where there are duplicate services, which can be identified and addressed.

“Having that global view of services may save us money in the future,” Berg said.