Changes on the way for Human Services

Published 7:56 am Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Human Services is changing, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

With a deficit of about $425,000 at the end of 2010 that doesn’t look to be going anywhere, the Human Services Strategic Planning Committee met Thursday to continue discussing long-term solutions.

One part of that is prioritizing services about the different services offered in human services.

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“We’re not going to be able to provide some of the nice things and extra things that we have in the past — we recognize that,” said Human Services Director Julie Stevermer.

Because of budget constraints, Human Services employees are strictly following guidelines that determine how much money is given to people in need. Stevermer said the employees are working to inform clients of how dollars and services are given out.

“We have policies we have to follow and statutes that we’re required to follow,” Stevermer said.

The financial struggles in Human Services don’t look to be going away anytime soon. Stevermer said there are many expenses her department is mandated to pay.

That burden could increase soon, as Stevermer said she’s expecting another round of cuts when the Legislature sets its 2011 budget next spring.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said officials with the Association of Minnesota Counties are beginning to warn that County Program Aid is more likely to be cut completely — it’s just a matter of when. According to Oscarson, that would remove more than $2 million from the county’s budget.


Another issue the committee must address is outdated technology in the Human Services office at Oak Park Mall.

“Technology … is going to be at the top of our list,” Stevermer said.

Not only are many of the office’s computers out of date, but the system at the mall is also outdated. This makes the office’s computers and phone systems slower and unreliable.

Microsoft programs are not updated, and many of the computers don’t have the converting programs to open the newer documents.

A potential fix to the system could cost upwards of $100,000, and Oscarson said that money would essentially be thrown away if the county board were to decide to move Human Services downtown.

The board is set to discuss future options for location of Human Services. The offices can stay put at Oak Park Mall, move into vacant space at the Mower County Government Center, or the county could build a new building on the “Robbins block.”

The issue will likely be discussed sometime in 2011 after newly elected commissioners Tony Bennett and Jerry Reinartz are more comfortable with the office.

Discussions of a move have been slowed by state-wide talks about regionalizing Human Services, which would potentially eliminate much of the need for offices. However, Oscarson said such a significant change often takes a long time.


Human Services leaders recently met with Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and Rep. Rich Murray, Republican-Albert Lea to discuss budget challenges. Commissioner-elect Tony Bennett said the legislators were surprised at some of the challenges Human Services is facing.

Stevermer said they’re going to have to keep them informed on what things can be done.

Oscarson said cooperation between the parties may be more likely as the budget crisis comes to a head.

“A lot of times, hitting the bottom is the best thing that can happen,” Oscarson said. “And the state and fed are hitting bottom — as we are — budget wise. So a lot of times that gets people on both sides motivated to come to a compromise.”