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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Lucas County discusses merger of 3 agencies

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLDE STAFF WRITER

Born of the desire to "streamline services," an idea to merge Lucas County Children Services with the county's Job and Family Services and Child Support Enforcement Agency received its first public airing yesterday.

Isaac Palmer, executive director of Lucas County Job and Family Services, presented information about the possible merger to members of the Children Services board of trustees during a one-hour meeting attended by about 35 staff members. Saying that a merger would have minimal impact on the majority of the agencies' staffs, Mr. Palmer said the idea is still in the investigative phase and welcomed questions from board members and staff.

He fielded many questions, including several on his assessment about the likely impact on staff.

"If the county commissioners are talking about merging without it being driven by financial savings and staff reductions, who are they kidding?" said Bernard Culp, a CSB trustee. "Maybe [staff members will] be here the first year, but not likely after that."

Only six of the 14 members of the Children Services Board were in attendance yesterday. The issue will likely be discussed again at the board's next regular meeting March 8.

The idea to merge the three county agencies has received serious consideration in the past few months, and county commissioners asked Mr. Palmer to study the issue. Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak mentioned the potential marriage of the agencies in her assessment of the State of the County in January.

Mr. Palmer said yesterday about 30 percent of Ohio's 88 counties have the three agencies combined. Thirty-two percent have combined their Job and Family Services agency and Children Services Board.

Mr. Palmer, who's retiring this year, said he's been collecting questions from everyone as part of his information gathering. He said he's been meeting with the executive directors of the agencies and with members of their human resources and administrative services department to discuss potential "hurdles and barriers."

Currently, Job and Family Services and the Child Support Enforcement Agency are overseen directly by the county commissioners. Children Services, which has a board of directors whose members are appointed by the county commissioners, receives funding from a 1-mill levy approved by voters in 2003 that generates about $7.8 million a year.

County Administrator Mike Beazley, who attended the meeting, said those funds may not be used for any other purpose.

Mr. Palmer said that about 80 percent of the people who utilize one agency also use the other two agencies. Working together, he said, should improve the way services are delivered.

Ms. Wozniak stressed that the idea of merging the three agencies was still being discussed and that no decisions have been made. There is no time line for a final decision, she added.

"I'm glad we're moving forward to make sure we get the pros and cons out on the table," she said, adding that she has heard positive responses about the concept.

"Mergers by design are more efficient so you don't duplicate services," she said. "However, the real goal was about streamlining services."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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