Posted on January 13, 2014 09:51
The Yankton County Commission agreed Monday to fund a new call service for citizens that will assist in finding community resources.
Commissioners discussed the possibility of implementing the 211 service a couple times during the past year but didn’t want to make a final decision until budget numbers for 2013 were finalized.
With the county’s year-end surplus the largest in memory — $4.7 million — Commissioner Allen Sinclair admitted the commission couldn’t argue that it doesn’t have the money for the undertaking.
By calling 211, residents will be able to obtain information from the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls on community resources, volunteer services, child care resources, suicide and crisis support, and military and family support.
The cost of the service will be 60 cents per person annually, bringing the estimated expense for Yankton County to $13,462.
Bon Homme and Hutchinson counties are also looking at implementing the service.
The 211 service originally served the Sioux Falls metropolitan area, and it was expanded to six counties in the Black Hills in 2005.
Lauren Hanson, executive director of the United Way & Volunteer Services of Greater Yankton, was on hand Monday to advocate for the helpline. She brought with her letters of support from human services agencies, non-profits and community leaders, including the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors; Pam Rezac, the president/CEO of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital; and the Boys and Girls Club.
“These are the people who are helping people every day in Yankton,” Hanson said. “They see the gap in services. They see we can be more progressive in working together and collaborating to help more people.”
Illustrating the need, Hanson described a situation last week where she attempted to help a veteran find assistance. She said the man had to make dozens of calls in his search for an answer.
“I would love to say, ‘All you need to do is call 211. You don’t need to make 15 phone calls,’” Hanson said. “It’s the perfect example of what happens in multiple agencies. We have such a caring and loving community. We’re trying to help everybody, but we’re not integrated and communicating effectively. This is an opportunity and tool for us to do it.”
Helpline Center Director Janet Kittams-Lalley said her organization currently handles approximately 50,000 calls per year and will research Yankton County to find what resources are available.
During the October blizzard in the western portion of the state, she said more than 1,900 calls were received and the helpline continues to field calls regarding the aftermath of the storm. Questions were answered about electricity, shelter, food, road conditions, downed branches and livestock carcass disposal, Kittams-Lalley said.
Yankton County Emergency Management Director Paul Scherschligt said that he has heard from colleagues in the Rapid City and Sioux Falls areas that 211 was instrumental in communicating with the public during natural disasters. The helpline works directly with emergency management personnel to craft responses to various questions.
Several commissioners said they wanted to give the program a try for a year and evaluate its effectiveness after that time.
“We don’t need to pay for something we don’t use or that we already have a way to deal with,” Sinclair said. “I think it will be interesting to see what the data shows.”
Added Commission Chairman Bruce Jensen, “I think we need to give it a chance. It could help a lot of different people.”
Commissioner Donna Freng called the program a great deal.
“I can tell you from working at Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health that I get calls all the time about where should I go and who should we go see,” she said. “For us to have one expert in Yankton County that knows what every group is doing and what services they provide and when they provide them and what the rules are ... we’d have to pay somebody $70,000 per year.”
However, Commissioner Mark Johnson said he is disappointed that an outside agency is needed to help local groups communicate more effectively.
“We want to keep an eye on the county budget to keep county government from growing too big,” he added. “I know that it’s a small amount, but it’s the nickels and dimes that grow.”
While it’s easy to start a program, Commissioner Garry Moore fretted that it’s a lot more difficult to take a program away once it’s been initiated.
“My personal feeling is, we’re getting along without (211),” he said. “If we have a ... surplus at the end of the year, does that mean we should spend it? Not necessarily. Maybe it means we’re levying too much and should drop it. There are a lot of issues that come into play.”
The vote on whether to sign a contract with the Helpline Center came down to a 3-2 split. Commissioners Johnson and Moore opposed it.
No mention was made of when 211 will be up and running in the county.
In other business Monday, the commission:
• decided to place $700,000 in a road and bridge capital accumulation fund.
“The numbers we got today show that we are carrying an unassigned cash balance of $4,707,000,” Sinclair said. “Forty percent of $8 million is $3.2 million. The most we can carry is that balance. We need to assign $700,000 so we meet the audit requirement of 40 percent or less in unassigned cash. That’s the first time that’s happened in the 11 years I’ve been here. We’ve never had that situation. It’s a good problem to have.”
Additional money had to be allocated to pay other expenditures.
• raised County Commission and county employee salaries by 3 percent:
• announced that Mike McDonald has been hired as the new veterans service officer;
• was informed that six applicants have submitted letters of interest for Mark Johnson’s vacant commission seat. The deadline for letters to the auditor’s office is today (Tuesday); and
• read a resolution of appreciation for Johnson, whose resignation from the board takes effect today. He joined the commission in 2005 and is leaving one year into a four-year term for a job opportunity that requires him to move to Omaha. Johnson said he has enjoyed his time on the board and will be getting back to Yankton County on a regular basis.