CLINTON — The Clinton County Board of Supervisors for the past few weeks have been busy hearing proposals from county officials as they work toward creating the 2007 fiscal year budget.

The budget proposed by Mental Health Coordinator Rebecca Eskildsen for mental health — by far the single largest amount, making up approximately one-third of the total county budget — was $6,361,625, a 4 percent increase when compared with fiscal year 2006.

Eskildsen said the fund balance is currently less than 10 percent, however income totaling roughly $1.3 million is anticipated to be received from the state.

This year Eskildsen said she has seen an unusually high number of people in residential facilities — paid in full by the county — who did not immediately receive their disability payments. When the payments come, the county recoups some of the service costs, and has received a higher amount than in past years.

Because about 75 percent of rates are set by Iowa Medicaid Enterprise and have not yet been provided, it is difficult to nail down a definite figure, said Eskildsen. The proposed budget amount may require minor adjustment when the rates are received.

The rates for county services are not being increased. However, some facilities will be given additional slots, meaning they are able to serve more people. The Gannon Center for Community Mental Health and Skyline Center will each receive five additional slots, while Community Care will receive six.

“We would’ve liked to have done a rate increase,” said Eskildsen, “but with the increased numbers of people and type of people being served, it just wasn’t possible.”

When people require services out of county, the rates for the individual center are honored. Supervisor Jill Davisson pointed out that money given to the Gannon Center does not always stay in Clinton County. Eskildsen said discussions are taking place on how to deal with this situation.

“We don’t have the fund balance, nor do I think it’s fair to the taxpayers in Clinton County to send that money out of county,” said Board Chairman Lewis Todtz.

The Gannon Center has received more than 80 applications so far this month, said Assistant Mental Health Coordinator Kim Ralston. Some are repeat applicants, Eskildsen said, but many are brand new to the center.

“We are going to get to a point where we have to say we just don’t have anymore money,” said Eskildsen. “We can’t levy any more, and the state won’t give any more… (however) We hate to put people on wait lists that really need these types of services.”

Sheridan: elections will be more expensive

The increased cost of holding elections in Clinton County this year will include more than the price of the new machines, County Auditor Charlie Sheridan told the supervisors as he presented his budget proposal for 2006-2007. For instance:

Printing the ballots will cost about $12,000 instead of being done in-house.

Envelopes for mailing absentee ballots will cost $6,000 because of their large size.

Postage will cost about $5,000 instead of $2,500.

Election officials will each need an estimated 20 hours of training on the new optical-scan system.

Even though the county will be receiving $278,500 in federal funds to help pay for the machines (and will have to put in $104,945) there will be an $11,600 yearly maintenance fee, which Sheridan said he didn’t have in his budget.

Poll workers currently are paid $5.50 per hour, with the chairman at each location receiving $6.25.

The poll workers have asked for a pay raise, Sheridan said, but he told them not this year because of the expense of buying the new voting system, which was required by federal law.

“With the increased cost for ballots and other equipment, I told them maybe next year we’ll look at it,” he said.

“If we could find the money, I wouldn’t be opposed to paying them a little more,” said Todtz. “They deserve it.”

Supervisor Grant Wilke agreed: “We’ve done that (served as poll workers) and I enjoyed it, but it’s a long day.”

The supervisors were not paid when they were poll workers.

Another problem for this year’s elections is finding polling locations that meet federal handicap accessibility regulations, Sheridan said.

“We had a man here from the secretary of state’s office and we did a handicap survey of all the polling locations in the county. At Lost Nation he just shuddered. It’s in the basement of city hall,” he said. “Also, the Delmar depot is not acceptable. If a voter was in a wheelchair, they would have to park in the front of the building, get out of the vehicle and go to the east end of the building, where there is a ramp. He said that was not acceptable.”

Other budget increases

The county’s care of veterans’ graves in local cemeteries has cost $11,030 so far this year, and is expected to exceed the budget of $34,000. The cemeteries are paid $10 a year for each grave.

Unemployment compensation claims recently came in for $11,000, to be added to the $10,000 already spent.

“I don’t think $25,000 is going to be enough,” Sheridan said. The supervisors suggested taking $20,000, which apparently will not be needed for courthouse carpenters who were laid off, and add it to the line item for regular employees, making the total available $45,000.

Sheridan said some counties are putting a line item for unemployment compensation in each department’s budget to have a better picture of where turnover is taking place.

But the supervisors were concerned the additional money in each office budget might be used for other purposes. The idea was put aside for later consideration.

County still on long learning curve

A long learning curve that started seven months ago for Clinton County officials was the main topic of discussion when Treasurer Rhonda McIntyre came before the Board of Supervisors to present her budget proposal.

Actually, her budget took about 10 minutes of the hour she spent with the board. It contained few changes from the current year, since salaries are still being negotiated with employee unions and the cost of the health benefits plan is still unknown.

Instead, McIntyre laid out some of the problems her office has had with a new data processing system.

For many years the county has had an in-house data processing system developed by Sharon Keegan, who tailored programs to meet the specific needs of the various departments.

When Keegan retired at the end of the last fiscal year, the supervisors sent out requests for proposals and contracted with the INCORE company for services.

“It might be better,” McIntyre told the supervisors, “if you would allow each office — at least our office — to watch our budget for what’s being purchased from INCOR.

“I think it’s pretty hard to monitor from downstairs (the county’s data processing office) what’s going on in every office and to know whether the programs you’ve requested are working properly,” she said. “As an example, I requested a certain program which did not get to where it was useable until December and there still are issues with it. And then they still wouldn’t give me subtotals by categories until we paid more money. So I said to heck with it and did it myself. My time doesn’t cost you anything.”

Wilke acknowledged, “We had a lot of discussion about that in a roundabout way. About what we invested and what did we get.”

Todtz agreed, “We know a lot more now than we did a year and a half ago.”

“I think the product is not too bad,” McIntyre said. “It’s the support and the technical tools that are missing. We didn’t get a treasurer’s ledger. Someone’s coming about that on Monday. Some of the stuff they just plain didn’t understand.”

She said she discovered that a special program she had requested was paid for before it was received.

“We’d had no correspondence on it; it was not on the menus. Now I have no idea when it will be finished, or if they’re even working on it. And we’ll need it in April or May,” she said.

She also noted her office had been billed $4,000 for training, and “we certainly didn’t get $4,000 worth of hours. I think there was some setup in there where they had to go do some data entry.”

“Training and data entry certainly are not the same thing,” Todtz agreed. “That would be part of conversion costs, and data conversion was quite a bit higher than what was contracted for.”

Later, Todtz summed up by saying: “Anytime you make as major a change in an operating system as we did, there’s going to be a learning curve.

“That’s been the biggest struggle for us, trying to adapt from a system that was highly specialized for our needs into a system that has been designed to meet the needs of many counties.

“Probably the biggest issue at this point is still to make sure we continue to get the training we need from the INCODE people in order to operate their system properly.”