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Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

County human services offices get ready for January realignment

December 27, 2019

 

Adams County courthouse. File photo.


BY Brad Mosher
Country Media
The state’s Department of Human Services is being reorganized into 19 different zones, changing from separate county to multi-county zones for most of the state.
In addition, the change will move funding to the state’s general fund and many of the state’s 53 counties into larger zones.
Under the guidelines that were set up by the 2019 legislature that approved the changes, the three southwestern counties would combine into one zone with Slope County taking the lead.
Slope, Bowman and Adams county have already met a Dec. 1 deadline to submit the reorganization plan to the state.
As of Jan. 1, the new zones will be active.
The newly-formed Southwestern Dakota Human Services Zone already has most of the governing board selected with Tara Jorgenson and Kathy Vliem from Adams County, along with Pine Abrahamson and Keith Kempenich from Bowman County and from Slope County, Mike Teske and Sue Juntenen filling up the six positions.
There is a remaining vacancy, which will be filled by April, according to Shonda Schwartz, the current director of the Bowman/Slope multi-county human services agency. The new Human Services Director will be hired by April 1 and will be the president and a voting member of the new board, she explained. The board will be rotating its meetings on the third Wednesdays of each month, between the Slope, Bowman and Adams county courthouses.
The first meeting will be Jan. 15 at the Bowman County Courthouse, starting at 8 a.m. “We need to develop a zone plan. That is due at the state by June 30, 2020,” she said.
The February meeting will be at the Adams County Courthouse and in March at the Slope County Courthouse – always on the third Wednesdays of the month, Schwartz explained.
According to Schwartz, Bowman and Slope counties have combined resources for a number of years before the reorganizational plan was announced months ago. “They formed a multi-county district years ago,” she said, noting that the only change will be the addition of Adams County residents and establishing Slope County as the “home” for the new agency.
It includes all the programs that social services which have been handled by the Bowman office.
The Bowman office has also been covering services in both Bowman and Slope counties, she explained. “We provide outreach to the Marmarth area and the Amidon area as well the rural areas,” Schwartz explained.
“We us being combined (all three counties), it promotes more efficiency.”
When the counties combine, there will be a single director for all three counties, she added. The change will mean no changes in employment, the current director of Bowman/ Slope multi-county agency said. When the new zone is formed, a new director will need to be hired.
“So we will go from two social service directors down to one. The one who is not the zone social service director will still have a job, but it will just be a different role,” she explained.


Adams County joins
In Adams County, there will be changes when the county merges into the new three-county zone.
According to Cheryl Dix, the social services director for Adams County, there are going to be a lot of changes, but they should not be that noticeable when the new zone alignment takes over.
The decision to join with Slope and Bowman County was an easy one, she explained.
“There is not going to be any negative effects in service delivery. If anything, I think we will be able to offer more specialty in particular areas of adult service, of children and families – it will be good,” she explained. “It will not have a negative effect.”
Dix said that when people come into the county office in Hettinger, they will not see any effect in service delivery. “It will mean a better delivery of services, in a more specialty way. We will be able to specialize more in specific areas, whether it be in economic assistance or in children and families services or in the adult service world. We will be able to focus more on meeting the needs of people that are accessing or in need of services.”
One of the biggest changes is that the state will be assuming more of the direct costs of the programs, transferring the funding from the individual counties to the state’s general fund. “It really takes a lot off the local people. Counties will no longer be levying for social services,” she said. “It is a tax incentive for local people. For the last two years, Adams County has not had to levy any monies for social services. The state has provided complete costs for social services … the funding for direct services.
“That has been a savings for people here,” Dix added. “It is my understanding that every year, for the county human services our commissioners have held the (purse) strings in regards to money and how we budget.
“From here on out, they won’t be doing that,” she said. Instead, the services zone board that has been created will have people from all three counties. “I think financially, it will benefit us and our employees (in Adams County). The benefits will become better being part of Slope County.”
Slope County will be the administrative county for the new Southwest Dakota Human Resource Zone, Dix explained. “They will be filtering all the financial stuff.”
The sharing of services between the three counties will be noting new, she said. “We have helped each other out in the social services, anyways. We just not have had a formal (arrangement). But we are going to mesh very well together. We have worked very well together for years.
“We anticipate that part of it will have a smooth transition,” Dix added.
Beginning Jan. 1, the state will approve the budget, not the county commission. “We have wonderful board members who will definitely look at the needs in our areas,” Dix said.
“We really feel like the needs here in southwest North Dakota are really different than central North Dakota, and even the eastern part of the state. I think in order to best serve the people in our areas, I think things will be done (locally) most efficiently as possible,” she said.
The key of the new zone working is to make sure the residents do not run into any roadblocks or barriers to get services, Dix added.
“If people need help, we want to help them at that moment and not pass them off,” she explained.
“In different parts of the state, we really do things very differently. We really need to all be on the same page. The Bismarck, the Fargo and the Grand Fork, they have more resources for mental health and addiction… I do think that the state is hearing the rural counties and rural zones on how do we best meet the needs of individuals,” the Adams County director said.


Property tax relief
According to state officials, the re-organization will provide more than $172 million in property tax relief and better sharing of services.
Among the services being provided include child and family services, such as foster care and child abuse investigations; adult services, such as in-home care for the elderly and disabled; and economic assistance, such as medical, food and home heating assistance.

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