Child services costs pushed onto counties

Members of a joint budget overview committee were warned Tuesday that the governor's plan to shift costs of state child and family services programs to the counties will seriously curtail alternatives to putting juveniles in prison.

Division of Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux said those proposals including assessing the counties for child protective services and youth parole services, and eliminating state support for the three youth camps in Nevada.

Taken all together, those moves would save the state general fund $23 million over two years by putting those costs on the counties.

Kerry Stewart of Washoe Juvenile Services and Washoe District Judge Frances Doherty both said the budget breaks down a good collaborative relationship between the state and the counties.

Stewart said that relationship has dramatically reduced the number of juveniles being sent to the state-run youth prisons and camps. He said that has saved the state money as well as kept those juveniles in their communities, close to families and in programs designed to straighten them out.

Doherty was less polite, saying the budget is "a recognition of the necessity to cut dollars without the recognition of what those cuts mean."

She said the elimination of intervention services "takes away the primary source of sex offender identification" and sharply reduces the ability of her court to keep child offenders out of prison.

The result, she said, will be a dramatic increase in the number of juveniles in state institutions.

"You will be facing quadruple the number of commitments," she said. "Your numbers for the youth camps will be seven or eight hundred. It's a mandate without insight."

Of the total, $4.8 million comes from the assessment for child protective services the state currently provides in the 15 rural counties. Comeaux told the committee it's fair to require rural counties to pay the assessments because that's what is currently done with Washoe and Clark counties.

The cost to Carson City for child protective services would be $762,000. That accounts for about three-quarters of the $1.1 million total hit to the Carson City budget if the governor's plan is approved.

The capital loses another $201,000 to cover the assessment for youth parole services and $164,000 to cover its share of the cost of running the state's youth camps.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, questioned what would happen if the counties decide they can't afford to pick up those services.

"I don't know," said Comeaux.

She said that issue would have to be addressed through a bill requiring counties to pay the assessments or come up with some other solution.

In questioning, she also conceded that the counties weren't consulted before these proposals were included in the budget. County officials said they only received the proposals a week ago when Gov. Brian Sandoval released his proposed budget.

Carson City isn't the only county hit by the budget plan.

• Douglas County would lose $575,000 to the assessment for child protective services, $196,000 to the youth parole assessment, $85,000 for the lost block grant money and $126,000 for the elimination of support for China Spring Youth Camp, more than $982,000 over the biennium.

• Lyon County loses $1.1 million: $782,000 for child protective services, $223,000 for youth parole and $169,000 to the youth camps.

• Storey loses $68,000: $47,000 to child protective services, $13,000 to youth parole and $8,000 for the camps.

Doherty asked that, before the committee acts, county juvenile officials be allowed to sit down with Comeaux and other state officials to work out a way to cut some costs without serious damage to the system.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, agreed, saying, "we'll see if we can't come up with a better plan than this."


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