Social Services financing reform, a two-year pilot program

Louise Oleson, DLJ Managing Editor
Rhonda R. Allery directs Lake Social Services that serves the people of Ramsey and Towner counties.

Thanks to the valiant efforts of local legislators the financing of social services in North Dakota is undergoing evaluation and study during the present biennium.

A statement by the North Dakota Association of Counties states, “Senate Bill 2206 will fund county social services statewide for the two-year pilot program for calendar years 2018 and 2019.

The funding will cost $160.7 million and will reduce property taxes roughly 6 percent with the elimination of up to 20 mills from county levies.”*

This has been an issue for the state’s counties for over a decade. NDACo Executive Director Mark Johnson explained in a news release, “North Dakota counties have little to no control over social service costs or the programs as these services are state and federally mandated. This is why property taxes are a poor fit for paying for social services.”

Rhonda Allery, director of Lakes Social Services that serves the people of Ramsey and Towner counties, says this study is a good thing.

“It’s a redesign,” Allery said. She is impressed with  Chris Jones, the new executive director of North Dakota Human Services (DHS) appointed by ND Governor Doug Burgum in Feb. 2017. In fact, Allery is part of the committee that has been appointed to study the operation of the pilot and develop a plan for the permanent implementation of a funding formula.

What’s going to happen next?

Then DHS will report on the status of the pilot and make recommendations including:

•Caseloads and outcomes for social services

•Considerations to ensure appropriate and adequate delivery of social services,

•Options for efficiency and aggregations,

•Analysis of potential reduction in social service offices

•Feasibility and desirability of state employment

•Considerations for oversight and chain of command

The department Jones leads has a 2017-2019 budget totaling $3.9 billion that includes 2,162 authorized full-time equivalents (full and part-time positions).

The department oversees Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (Healthy Steps), economic assistance programs including Child Care Assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; Child Support; Aging Services; Children and Family Services including child protection, family preservation services, foster care, and adoption; Vocational Rehabilitation; Developmental Disabilities Services; the Life Skills and Transition Center, and Behavioral Health Services, which include the Behavioral Health Division, the North Dakota State Hospital, and the eight regional human service centers.

Lakes Social Services

The department Allery heads has a budget of slightly over $2.5 million. They currently employ 28.5 employees. Their offices are located on the second floor of the Ramsey County Courthouse, 524, 4th Ave. NE in Devils Lake and they maintain an office at 315 2nd St. in Cando.

*According to the Ramsey County Auditor, Kandy Christopherson, the actual amount property taxes will be reduced will be determined once all the figures are in and they can do the calculations.

Tax statements are mailed out during the first week in December to all property owners of record as of Nov. 1.

Why is this important?

•Equity for the taxpayer:

For example in Cass County the sales price of a home valued at $329,000, the Social Service taxes were $148.00

In Mercer County the sales price of a home $335,000, the Social Service taxes were $206.

In Ramsey County the sales price of a home $330,000, the Social Service taxes were $297.

•What does that mean?

It means that homeowners in Ramsey County will no longer be paying more than their fair share of Social Service taxes.

•The bottom line?

Taxpayers in Ramsey County may see a slight reduction in the property taxes they pay in the years ahead.