The Cavalier County Commission voted to accept the position of host county for the northeast tri-county zone for social services redesign. This decision comes after months of discussion and pressure from the North Dakota Department of Human Services (NDDHS) to take the responsibility for administering the social services for the zone.
By Melissa Anderson
Cavalier County Commissioner Stanley Dick explained to his fellow commissioners that the NDDHS has been taking a stance on the decision making that is occurring amongst the counties in regards to the social services redesign implementation.
“If you think we really have a choice, you can see that there’s really not a whole lot of choice in this cause if we don’t, the next step is that DHS is going to be ‘firm’ about it, whether we agree on it or not. We got two choices- we can say no or then they’re going to force us to,” Dick said.
Dick referred to a recent meeting held between the NDDHS and Ramsey and Rollette counties in which the meeting’s notes show it to be very clear the active role that the state department will be taking in the set up and administration choices. With little choice in the matter, Dick expressed his opinion that it would be better to just accept and move forward with the remaining issues of setting up the zonal region.
“Personally, if we are going to do it, let’s just go ahead and say we’re going to do it, and let’s get going cause there are things we can do in the mean time with this interim committee,” Dick said.
The Commission discussed the steps that had been laid out by the state law where the counties within the zones had their hands tied until a host county had been decided. By continuing to say no, Cavalier County delayed the inevitable and impeded the process of implementation and structuring of the zone.
“I still don’t like getting ramrodded into it. I don’t think that’s the proper way to do it,” commented Commissioner Nick Moser.
“It’s better to establish what we are doing to move forward to iron out these liability things than to wait and say ‘no, we’re not going to do it’ and then in November they jam it down our throats and then we are not getting all this stuff done right,” Commissioner Greg Goodman preluded to making the motion for Cavalier County becoming the host. Goodman did add a sunset clause to the motion of June 30, 2021, to his motion so that’s documented that the county can rescind their agreement to host. Roll call vote was taken with all commissioners voting yes with the exception of Moser.
“From looking at the employee standpoint, this is the best option,” commented Cavalier County Social Services Director Jill Denault.
The commissioners reviewed the human service zone agreement template that was recently released for the counties to use as they wade through this process. Dick stated that it would make the most sense to work with the other counties in the zone, Pembina and Walsh, on the agreement and submit them all at the same time. It was reasoned that by doing it this way, there would be no discrepancies between the three county agreements submission.
“I would like to go through this process and then when we get it filled out, after we meet as an interim committee, bring it back to… commissions and ‘say is this what you guys think is alright?’,” reasoned Dick. “To me it doesn’t make sense to for us to decide this is what we want and then go to the board and they have something totally different and then we are going to have to come back to you guys anyway.”
The Commission discussed the zonal board as well and the appointments from Cavalier County. At the interim committee, there was agreement that whoever the host count ended up being that they would have three representatives. The commission discussed this and potential candidates. Dick had already approached Amy Kram as a potential member at large for the county, which she agreed to put her name forward. The commissioners appointed Stanley Dick, Dave Zeis and Amy Kram as the representatives on the zonal board for Cavalier County.
Other topics discussed by the commission were the rotation of the zonal board meetings amongst the three counties. Members of the zonal board would potentially be reimbursed at $50 a meeting plus mileage. One issue was with HR and the subsequent handling of policy, which had been a point of contention for Moser. The ownership and insurance of cars that are used by social services was another issue that would have to be decided by the zonal board. The social service employees from Walsh County will also have some issues as they transfer their health insurance over from Blue Cross Blue Shield to NDPERs.
For Cavalier County, a singular issue is the need for an additional employee within the Cavalier County auditor’s office to assist with this additional workload. Dick conveyed that at the interim meeting, there was resistance from the other representatives to support the extra cost for that employee. Dick proposed that instead of a full-time employee, a part-time employee be hired instead. Cavalier County Auditor Lisa Gellner was not against the reduction to part-time but did state that during election time, there would be a larger workload requiring more time in office.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of work this very first year, especially with election on top of it. I think with 2.5 days a week averaged out, however, we use them more during the election less otherwise .I think we can make it work,” Gellner said.
Within the preliminary budget, the county had budgeted a full-time employee. This would need to be adjusted. The current employees within the auditor’s office would receive a $10,000 temporary increase to their salaries. The commissioners approved the hiring of a part-time employee to assist the auditor’s office with the social services duties.
The interim committee representing the three counties will meet again in early September to report on respective commissions’ approvals and review the zonal agreement. At the meeting, Dick believes the committee will have to review template agreement line-by-line and come to terms that way. For the three commissions as a whole, Dick has little doubt that they will work together to make the best of the situation for all three.
“The whole frustrating thing is, I think , counties are now seeing that the state pushed something through that we didn’t fully understand, and everybody thought ‘yeah, this is a great idea’ and now when we fully understand it- there are a lot more red flags than we realized,” Dick said. “I don’t want to be negative on it cause bottom line- it’s done. It’s law. Let’s make it work and make it the best possible for us.”