Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Children Services cuts $4.2M

Butler agency says it's coping with cutbacks

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Facing reduced state and federal funding and rising costs, Butler County Children Services is slashing $4.2 million from its budget to avoid a deficit at the end of the year.

Most of the agency's $4.2 million in savings will come from offering some services in-house instead of contracting them. But three administrative employees have been notified that they will be laid off, and nine vacant positions will not be filled, said Hall Thompson, chairman of the Children Services Board. There will be fewer than seven additional layoffs, he said.

The cutbacks come as the agency is trying to reform its operations and improve its services. Thompson said the budget cuts hurt, but they aren't a major blow to the agency.

"It's a setback, but I wouldn't deem it a crisis," he said. "It's made the job of improving the agency that much more difficult."

Like other social service agencies throughout Ohio, Children Services, which protects abused, neglected and dependent children, had been hit hard by state and federal funding cutbacks.

"Money and revenues we had counted on previously aren't available anymore," Thompson said.

Since being hired as the agency's executive director last November, Jann Heffner has been reviewing operations and services, looking for more efficient ways to serve families.

Part of the program cutbacks stem from switching some children who had been in out-of-county residential treatment programs to in-house treatment, Thompson said.

"They're still receiving the treatment, but it's being done by our agency instead of outsourcing it, which is very expensive," he said.

No caseworkers, who work directly with children and their families, will be laid off, said Maggie Devereux, the agency's ombudsman.

"We don't want to cut positions or services that affect what we do for families," she said. "We're trying to find other ways to do business and to save expenses."

The Children Services Board might ask voters to approve a levy increase in November. A five-year, 2-mill levy expires at the end of the year. The board must decide whether to ask simply for a renewal or an additional levy.

"We're looking at all aspects of the budget," Thompson said. "We're looking to do things necessary to stay on target."

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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