Options for consolidating Sampson’s human service agencies will be on the table at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, during which a public hearing will be held on the matter. Options will overhaul the agencies’ boards and give commissioners more power in the hiring and firing of leaders, as well as decision making within those departments.
The board previously received a synopsis of options for the consolidation of the human service agencies, notably the Department of Social Services and the Health Department. The board voted 3-2 to pursue the process, including setting the hearing, back in November.
On Monday, County manager Ed Causey and county attorney Joel Starling will recap the options for consolidation, at which point the board will open the floor to anyone who wishes to speak on the matter.
On the table are three options.
The first option will see the Board of Commissioners assume direct control over the Board of Social Services and the Board of Health, appointing advisory committees for DSS and the Health Department, the members of which will be appointed by the Board of Commissioners. Additionally, commissioners will assume the authority to hire and fire the directors of DSS and the Health Department, with both directors under the supervision of the county manager.
A second option will consolidate Sampson County DSS and the Health Department into one consolidated human services agency, creating the Sampson County Consolidated Human Services Agency and creating the Sampson County Consolidated Human Services Board, which shall serve as the policymaking, rulemaking, and administrative board of the Consolidated agency, whose 25 members shall be appointed by the Board of Commissioners. The county manager will appoint and supervise a Consolidated Human Services agency director, again under the direction of commissioners.
The third option will consolidate Sampson County DSS and the Sampson Health Department into the Sampson County Consolidated Human Services Agency, abolishing the Sampson Board of Social Services and Board of Health and constituting the Board of Commissioners as the newly-constituted Sampson County Consolidated Human Board, which shall serve as the policymaking, rulemaking and administrative board of the new consolidated agency.
As with the second option, the county manager will appoint and supervise a new consolidated agency director, with commissioners leading that selection.
Any of the options would be effective April 1, 2018. Resolutions for all three options have already been drafted, included in commissioners’ agenda packets for Monday’s meeting.
UNC School of Government representatives spoke to commissioners during a special meeting in October about potential consolidation. That meeting was attended by members of the Social Services Board and Board of Health, along with directors and key staff from those departments.
During a November Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Sue Lee quickly made a motion to set up a hearing to pursue the consolidation in January, quickly seconded by Commissioner Jerol Kivett.
“I just think it’s a bad idea. I think we should just leave it alone and leave things the way they are,” Commissioner Albert Kirby said.
The vote came 3-2, with board chairman Clark Wooten voting to move forward and Commissioner Harry Parker dissenting along with Kirby.
It was in July that Wooten asked Causey to investigate the feasibility of bringing human service agencies under the county umbrella.
At that same meeting, he asked that planning services be examined for a possible move to an independent county department, breaking from the joint operation it has had with the City of Clinton since 2004.
The board moved forward with that in October, approving in a 3-2 vote to implement a two-person county planning department, combined with the Inspections Department, that will cost slightly more — estimated $180,000 annually — than the current situation in addition to $63,000 in one-time costs. That move will take effect July 1, 2018, with the hiring of a senior planner and another planner to take place leading up to that date.
Now, focus has shifted to the human service agency consolidation.
In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that provided counties with new options for how they can organize and govern some local human services agencies. All counties are allowed, but not required, to create consolidated human services agencies that are either governed by an appointed board or by the Board of Commissioners.
Almost immediately after the law was enacted, several counties began exploring these new options and making changes at the local level. Kirby recalled when the legislation was passed. There were some informal discussions between him and Causey, dating back four or five years, about the issue. They agreed at that time that having a human resources director position was key in any move going forward. That HR position and department has since established.
“It’s something to look at down the road,” Kirby previously stated of a potential consolidation, noting some savings in Columbus County as a result. Wooten noted similar success in Brunswick County, one of the first to engage in such a consolidation.
Often consolidation is sought to bring a more centralized approach to government services. That can also mean costs are cut through the elimination of redundancies.
Some 20 counties in the state have moved forward with consolidation since the 2012 legislation took effect. Cost savings is a consideration, but it is not the only one, Causey has imparted. Customer service and organizational improvement are other factors to be considered, he noted.
No potential cost savings in Sampson have been discussed at the commissioners meetings.
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