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Social service boards meet in Bottineau

By Staff | Dec 14, 2018

Social service board members, administrators, and commissioners from Pierce, Bottineau and McHenry Counties met in Bottineau Monday morning to discuss a plan to combine their three social service offices into one.

The move came as an effort to comply with North Dakota Senate Bill 2206, which addresses efficiency in service delivery to clients presently served by individual county offices.

According to an October 31 report prepared by the North Dakota Department of Human Services to update the state on the bill’s implementation process, restructuring the service areas and funding will promote three positive attributes.

The report describes the attributes as: “Collaboration: Instead of rigid county boundaries for the delivery of service, organization in zones will enable collaboration to meet the needs of citizens and scale best practices. Specialization: The new funding formula will enable specialization in areas like long-term care eligibility, subsidized adoption or child care licensing; Utilization of capacity: Shared workload will ensure that all parts of the system are efficiently utilized.”

The report adds, “When efficiency is achieved, money will be directed to direct client services.”

Bottineau County Social Service Board Chair Jeff Beyer led the meeting with the suggestion the counties form small groups to begin work on a plan for the new district.

County representatives agreed forming a social service district of their own was an important way to make decisions not dictated by the state.

However, some inquired about including Renville or Rolette County in the new district.

Beyer said Bottineau County had initially contacted Renville County.

“We did reach out to them a second time, letting them know that we had met with you folks, and were still open to the idea if they were interested in joining us; and we got no response.”

Pierce County Commissioners Dave Migler and Terry Hoffert mentioned being contacted by a representative from Rolette County, suggesting they combine the county with the present group.

“Other counties might shy away from being involved, but his way of thinking was, because of the legislature meeting, and the way that they would be making changes also, that it could financially be better,” Hoffert said.

Bottineau County Social Services Director Kelly Jensen noted, “There’s definitely a push to start combining with other counties. So, I think that message is clear, and it’s loud.”

Hoffert agreed, “I think it would be better for us to merge and do it on our own, rather than having the state dictate and tell us what we have to do.”

The county representatives agreed to begin a series of working group meetings, each county represented by three people. Pierce County Social Services Director Melinda Bischoff-Voeller suggested she and Jensen guide the process of forming a new district plan.

“We (directors) won’t have voting privileges, though,” Voeller said.

Beyer agreed with including Voeller and Jensen in the working group. “There’s an awful lot of stuff that we don’t understand. The directors are going to have to work through those items.”

County Commissioner Dave Migler, Pierce County Social Service Board member Joe Bohl, and Pierce County Auditor Karin Fursather will represent Pierce County.

Jensen presented a service plan developed by Trail and Steele Counties, whose agencies merged to form the Agassiz Valley Social Services District.

Jensen suggested using the plan as a template to draw up a plan for the new district. “We have an advantage we have part of this done for us; it’s just a matter of plugging in the numbers. The more often we meet to get this done and have it submitted to the state, the sooner we’ll have it formed.

“I have a copy (of a plan) from Foster-Eddy-Wells; that was also just approved by the state,” she continued.

In addition to creating and planning a new district, attendees suggested names for the new entity such as Tri-County Social Services District, North Tri-County Social Services District, Peace Garden Social Services District and North Central Social Services District.

Voeller and Jensen also agreed to discuss shifting administrative duties to the Bottineau office, as Voeller announced she intended to step down and take a foster care worker position in Pierce County.

“I will be available (to help with the transition to a social service district) as needed, though,” Voeller said.

The first working group meeting will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at the Bottineau County Courthouse.

“We’d rather drive the bus than have the state come and tell us what to do. Hopefully it works out for all of us,” Beyer stressed.

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