ALPENA - The Alpena County Board of Commissioners, Treasurer Kim Ludlow and the 26th District Court appear to have a plan in place that will pay for the more than $300,000 budget shortage for child care in the county.
The overrun on the child care fund came when Judge Thomas LaCross placed seven juveniles into treatment centers, which costs $300 a day per child and $14,700 a week for all.
The county commissioners budgeted $107,000 for child care and there was an equity account with a little over $90,000 LaCross had to cover any expenses up and over what the commissioners budgeted. The placement of the children has gone through all of it, plus $89,000 due currently and it is estimated it will cost an additional $300,000 to cover the cost for the remainder of 2013. Thus far it has cost more than $600,000 to have the children cared for.
During Tuesday's commissioner's meeting Ludlow told the commissioners $125,000 from the surplus the county has gained so far this year, $87,822 from the circuit court, $188,460 from the budget stabilization fund could be added together and cover the shortfall. Earlier this month Ludlow told the finance committee that revenues were 5 percent ahead of expenses and anticipated there being money to carry over to next year's budget. That is no longer the case.
Ludlow said to prevent the child care fund from getting out of control in the future she is going to meet with the court every two weeks to monitor the budget and cost of child care more closely. Several of the commissioners were upset LaCross didn't inform the county sooner that he had exhausted all of the child care funds and went into the red for the remainder of the year. Commissioner Mark Hall said it is unfortunate the issue wasn't addressed sooner, but said everyone needs to learn from it and move forward.
"Not being notified earlier will be a point moving forward and there are ideas on the table about having the 26th Judicial Court meet more frequently and rest assured we will be working closely with the court to find the appropriate check and balance so this doesn't happen again," Hall said.
Commissioner Scot McKenzie said the county still has reserve funds, but much of it is earmarked or reserved for specific purposes. He said he hopes there aren't any more large issues looming that will cost even more money the county can't afford.
"We don't want to keep dipping into our reserves," McKenzie said. "This has already had a large impact on the finances and spending for the remainder of this year and will affect next years budget I'm sure."
In recent years LaCross typically places two or three juveniles in treatment and the money in the fund normally can cover the cost. With seven kids in the system now it was more than what the budget could bare. Commissioner Eric Lawson said court employees and the county need to work together so this issue isn't repeated.
"To keep a budget on track you have to have some idea with what your dealing with and we know things can come up, but if you're responsible for something that you don't have complete control you need all of the information and help you can get," Lawson said.
Lawson said even though the cost is great he does not want children who need help to be denied it.
Hall said he wants the kids to get healthy and to beat their addiction as well, but in the end the court has the final say on how the children are handled and what type of punishment or treatment they have.
"They determine where people go and the cost associated with it," Hall said. "We may not have any say about that, however it could drive other purchasing decisions if we know what the real issues are."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com