Wyoming Commissioners Advocate CCIS Restructuring Response
By D.C. Koviack
Last Thursday during their bi-weekly meeting, the Wyoming County Commissioners agreed with representatives from the county’s Child Care Information Services (CICS) and said they did not agree with the state’s suggestion that Wyoming County’s CCIS merge with Lackawanna County’s. “I think Lackawanna County has a completely different outlook,” noted Commissioner Tony Litwin of the mission of the two CCIS entities.
CCIS provides information, guidance, resources, child care and counseling to families with young children who meet specific economic and other guidelines. Litwin’s comment referenced the largely urban character of Lackawanna County versus Wyoming County’s mostly rural makeup. Mary Foley of Wyoming County’s CCIS said that under the proposed plan, the 59 CCIS offices throughout the state would coalesce into 30; smaller offices are either linked together or are piggy backed onto larger offices as in the proposed structure of Wyoming and Lackawanna CCIS.
“I’d rather see us go with the Tioga-Bradford-Sullivan group or the Susquehanna-Wayne-Pike group,” Litwin added, analyzing a map of the proposed re-structuring. “Ideally though we would keep it completely local.”
The restructuring is merely proposed by Harrisburg, not an edict; the state is asking for information and feedback on the proposal by Sept. 16. Foley said now that she knew the commissioners’ preferences, she could run some numbers and put together a two or three year plan to cut expenses for the county’s CCIS while still maintaining services; the plan should be strong enough to convince Harrisburg, it is hoped, to allow Wyoming County’s CCIS to remain independent. Along with the restructuring is a plan by the state to reduce administrative costs for CCIS offices to eight percent across the board.
Foley admitted that Wyoming County’s CCIS runs at about 20 percent; she noted, however, that the yearly grant to the county for CCIS is only $737,450. This means the county spends just under $150,000 a year on administration, including staff salaries. “Many other larger CCIS offices with budgets in the millions of dollars are paying correspondingly high administrative salaries,” she explained. “I can see that they should be cut, certainly, but eight percent of our grant would only pay for one staff person,” she said.
Additionally, Harrisburg’s timeline for the budget cuts is about 14 months. “We can’t do it all at once like that,” Foley told the commissioners. She said she could reduce administrative costs gradually over two or three years. In addition to cutting full-time positions to part-time, she asked the commissioners if there was rent-free office space available CCIS could use.
“Right now, rent is about $15,000 a year for us,” she said. “That would be a significant help,” with the budget trimming effort, she explained. The commissioners seemed very willing to explore this avenue with Foley and her staff in a combined effort to cut costs and keep the CCIS office in the county, employing and serving county people. Foley added that she will be in touch with State Senator Lisa Baker and State Representatives Karen Boback and Sandra Major to gain their ideas and support. Foley and the commissioners will meet again on Aug. 30 to review Foley’s draft plan and evaluate other suggestions for strategy the Wyoming County CCIS can take.
“I know that if we don’t keep our autonomy, our clients will lose,” Foley told the commissioners.
In other business, the county will hold an Electronic Recycling day on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Recycling Center in Tunkhannock Township. Mike Rogers, Recycling Director, told commissioners that there has been an uptick not only in recyclables received, but in monies earned by selling those recyclables. “The market is very good,” he said.
Many program reports and grant agreements were signed off on by the commissioners, including the Medical Assistance Transportation Agreement and Juvenile Probation Assistance. The commissioners and the county’s Environmental/Marcellus Industry Community Liaison, Emily Krafjack, discussed the pipelines currently under construction in parts of Wyoming County and neighboring counties. Some are transmission lines from groups of wells such as the P&G wells on Carney Flats and others are gathering lines.
Krafjack told the commissioners that she has been asked to speak as a private citizen at the National Pipeline Safety Conference in New Orleans in November. Krafjack made it clear that she was attending the conference at no cost whatsoever to the county since the conference had invited her as a featured speaker. Although she will not officially be representing Wyoming County, she noted, she would of course discuss the impact of Marcellus drilling in her home county during her remarks. The commissioners were delighted with Krafjack’s chance to attend the conference and were proud that she had been chosen to speak.
The passage of Act 22 HB 960 was also discussed at the meeting. Act 22 limits what health care providers can charge for a prison inmate’s medical treatment, holding them to the Medicaid rates. The act will also continue an inmate’s medical assistance privileges while he or she is in prison. Currently, inmates lose those privileges when incarcerated and this means the burden of payment is placed on the county’s general fund through the prison rather than on the state’s medical assistance funding. Act 22 became law on June 30. “That will be a tremendous help,” noted Litwin, “both for our budget and for the inmates who need treatment.”