Posted 5/16/19 (Thu)by Donnell Preskey | Government/Public Relations Specialist
The signing of Senate Bill 2124 marks the end to a decade-long effort to address how to properly fund county social services. But the signing sets forward a new monumental task, to redesign the delivery of county social services.
“The permanent state funding of social services was North Dakota counties greatest priority this Legislative Session. Because federal and state government mandates social service programs, counties have had little say or control in the programs and administration. The time had come for this change,” said North Dakota Association of Counties (NDACo) Executive Director Terry Traynor. “I believe the primary goal of maintaining and enhancing the local delivery can be achieved with the processes this bill provides, while funding is provided in a more equitable manner across the state.”
SB 2124 is complicated, but essentially it will reorganize the current system of 43 county social service units into no more than 19 zones, while maintaining all current county offices and allowing the state and counties to respond more efficiently to social service needs. Employment and salaries of existing employees are preserved and parameters are in place to ensure progress is made towards equal pay for equal jobs statewide. Zone directors and current county social service employees will be employed by the host county of the human service zone funded by the state. However, the legislation provides that 107 specialized positions will be moved to state employment through the course of the biennium.
“This landmark bill maintains all local access points to services, while allowing us to respond better to community needs and promote innovation in service deliver,” commented North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. “Social service team members will be able to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time working directly with citizens to address their needs.”
Nearly $174 million in local property tax relief will be provided through the continuation of state funding to cover the cost of county social services. This is approximately $13 million more than the Legislature appropriated during the 2017 Session when the state first decided to use the funding of social services as a vehicle to provide property tax relief. This will result in the permanent elimination of up to 20 mills in property taxes.
“Counties will have the opportunity to directly influence the future of service delivery and program development,” said Agassiz Valley Social Service Director Kim Jacobson. “It is critical we understand the needs of local citizens and build a system that is citizen focused. We are part of the solution and are building together the system that will serve North Dakota for the next 100 years.”
The next steps include a statewide planning session of county commissioners, social service directors and state officials. This session will lay out expectations and time frames. All counties are now required to determine their participation in single and multi-county zones for service delivery by December 1, 2019 and a formal submission of a plan for zone operation by June 30, 2020. Full implementation will be January 1, 2021. In the meantime, multiple program-level pilot projects are underway to propose and test improvements to processes and procedures to maximize the delivery of services while minimizing the administrative burden.
“My advice to counties would be to read the bill, seek to understand, get involved, be engaged and keep an open mind,” advised Jacobson. “Five years from now, I envision a state where all citizens have access to the services they need, no matter where they may live. I also envision that we will continue to improve our system to best meet the needs of our vulnerable citizens.”