County to study human services merger

County Commissioner Don Martin

County to study human services merger
February 23
00:06 2017

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

Forsyth County will be exploring if consolidating the Departments of Social Services and Public Health would be best for the community.

That’s one of the things that came out of a county commissioner’s winter work session at the County Government Building on Thursday, Feb. 16. Consolidation is about who controls the departments, which are currently governed by appointed boards of citizens that hire each department’s director and oversees their duties.  Consolidation options include putting the department directly under county control.

Under state law, only the biggest counties in the state: Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford could consolidate their human services departments before 2012, when the General Assembly changed the statute to allow any county to do it. Only 28 out of the 100 counties in the state have consolidated.

State law gives several options for consolidation. One is keeping the departments as they are, but eliminating both boards and placing the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners as their governing body.   Another option is having a consolidated human services director over both departments, who is appointed by the county manager with the advice and consent of a new consolidated board for both departments. A final option has the county manager hiring a consolidated human services director with the advise and consent of county commissioners, who would act as the board for human services. The last two options would mean that the State Human Resources Act would be optional for human services staff and put them under the same policies as other county employees.

Assistant County Manager Ronda Tatum told commissioners that most clients of consolidate human services don’t notice a change in service. Staff did find some potential efficiencies in consolidation, including cross training between departments and combining back office functions like purchasing, finance and other administrative functions.

When asked by commissioners, Tatum said some counties have had issues with consolidating and have switched between the different types of consolidation. She said Guilford did its consolidation too fast. That county’s human services director left in 2015 and still hasn’t been replaced. She said Guilford’s human services are still “all over the place” and not truly consolidated yet.

County Commissioner Walter Marshall said that commissioners lack the time to provide effective oversight of human services.

“As part time elected officials, you don’t have time to deal with all those issues that I think boards can deal with better,” said Marshall, who is on the Department of Social Services Board.

He also said that politics get mixed into things when commissioners run human services directly, which he said was the reason for consolidation problems in places like Guilford and Mecklenburg.

County Commissioner Don Martin felt they could just refer issues that come up to staff at the departments.

“Theoretically, the administrative staff in all agencies should be handling the problems,” said Martin.

Martin said he’s interested in consolidation because of the possibility that the employees in both departments could be under the county’s personnel policies and not the state’s, which includes an extended state appeals process on things like termination.

Ultimately, the commissioners decided to take the staff recommendation to engage the consulting services of Cansler Collaborative Resources to determine if consolidation would be best for the county and how it could work if it was feasible.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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