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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Randy Phiel

(7/2012) As County Commissioner there are many issues to deal with on a daily basis. Since the new board of Adams County Commissioners took office on January 1st, one constant concern has been speculation regarding the Governor?s Human Services budget cuts and Human Services Block Grant Disbursements to counties. Because a large portion of Pennsylvania County Government responsibility is geared to Human Services, with Adams County being no exception, these two interwoven issues have gained the attention of this board of commissioners and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

The Governor?s FY 2012-2013 proposed fiscal year budget ostensibly aims to fundamentally transform the relationship between the state and local governments for the delivery of certain critical human services programs. The process began with the Governor and Department of Public Welfare promoting the Human Services Block Grant as a mechanism that would provide counties with more flexibility to prioritize funds where each locality needs them most. That was quickly followed by a proposal for a 20% cut that is still pending. The Corbett Administration then interfaced the Human Services Block Grant proposal, with the proposed 20% budget cut, implying the use of the block grants would minimize the impact of budget cuts.

Not surprisingly, the governor and state legislators have heard numerous concerns from counties, providers and family groups who are apprehensive about the block grant proposal as a remedy or partial remedy to the proposed cuts. The topic came up at a York County forum several weeks ago. Steve Warren., Director of York/Adams Mental Health and Drug & Alcohol, told the crowd he had concerns about the block grant system saying that it could be a way of shifting funding responsibilities and ?essentially passing the funding problem onto the county.? Many of the programs are mandated. Michele Hovis, Executive Director of York County Human Services, is quoted as saying that ?any benefit from increased flexibility would be overruled by a 20% or 10% reduction in funding?? and at this point there are many unknowns about it.? Although there is no doubt that significant budget cuts will be detrimental to some programs, increased budget flexibility, at the county level, will potentially help direct funds where there is evident need. Residents should be aware that the Adams County & York County Commissioners meet regularly as a group with Director Warren to discuss Human Resources issues, programs and funding due to the partnership of York & Adams County in this program. In those meetings the effect of 10% and 20% cuts has been discussed, projected and evaluated. The cuts would have significant impact on residential group homes for the mentally challenged as well as some impact on child welfare programs. It is the position of the Adams County Commissioners that this would result in a negative residual effect that would adversely impact these vulnerable clients, our residents and our community service providers.

State officials have been working with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania over the proposed human services block grant proposal. When Governor Corbett initially introduced his budget it called for a 20% reduction in Human Services and lumped seven programs ? mental health services, intellectual disabilities, county child welfare special grants, behavioral health services, homeless assistance programs, the human service development fund and outpatient drug and alcohol programs ? into a single block grant. These are not only some of our most vulnerable and needy residents; but to under serve and not effectively serve their needs will result in greater human and monetary costs. The agreement with the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association includes a phased in approach to block grants, streamlined reporting and an annual county plan instead of one for each category. There will also be public hearings regarding how the money is spent.

Last week the fiscally conservative and controlled Republican Senate approved a budget that would reduce those line items by 10% instead of 20%. Part of that reduction was due to greater than anticipated state revenues. I have spoken to Adams County Senator Rich Alloway regarding this matter and he anticipates the cut to be 10% or less. Unfortunately, the county budget is not in a position to provide for the loss in funding to these vital services. Given the importance and impact to our residents these issues entail - we anxiously await final State Budget and Human Services Block Grant implementation details. We are hopeful to have some answers in the next several weeks as the practical impact of these issues take effect on July 1.

There is no doubt that there is a need to run government at all levels more efficiently and control costs. Over the years government has been operating on borrowed time and money. Those actions have had a significant local and global economic impact. We must also realize that for every action there is a reaction. In many cases the same residents who want cuts do not want any reduced services to affect them. The reality is that they may receive human services; or have a family member or friend who receives the service. Although this Board of Commissioners will do our best and adjust to maintain services at a the most practical level possible, let there be no mistake that cutting services to our mentally impaired and child welfare programs will be a tough assignment.

I will close this month by reminding you that July is a great month in Adams County. The fruit stands are open, outdoor activities abound and we welcome visitors from around the country and the world. Get out there and take advantage of all the historical, recreational, cultural and natural opportunities that our beautiful county has to offer!

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