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‘Tis The Season For Giving

By Staff | Nov 18, 2010

With the holiday season of giving drawing near, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors are becoming a regular destination for various organizations. The Supervisors met with representatives of three organizations in their weekly meeting on Tuesday to hear requests for funding for the next fiscal year.

The Board first heard from Ron Askeland, Executive Director of Horizons’ Unlimited, who briefed the supervisors on the organization’s plans to apply for Gaming Grants this winter to aid in some equipment replacement for the recycling program at Horizons. “We hope you will support our grant applications when the time comes,” Askeland said, and received a favorable response from the board members.

Pat Lauck of the West Bend Historical Society appeared before the supervisors to request consideration for some financial assistance for a construction project at the group’s museum in West Bend.

“We need space for farm machinery that has been donated to us,” Lauck explained, “We want to build a building adjacent to the museum, right out the back door.”

According to Lauck, the Historical Society has been working on grant funding applications and have lined up some in-kind donations to assist in their project, including commitments from the city for assistance with site development and permits.

“I’m not asking for a specific amount, as we know the county faces tight funds, but we are asking the county to consider some funding in the budget if possible,” Lauck said, concluding her presentation.

The board took the request under advisement.

Cynthia Beauman, Executive Director of Northwest Aging, appeared before the supervisors to make her organization’s annual request for funding as well.

“Last year, you provided $6,000 in funding for Northwest Aging, which was used for our federal match funding,” Beauman said.

Beauman reviewed some of the activities of Northwest Aging, but then pointed out that the Iowa Legislature had eliminated the Senior Living Trust program and its’ funding mechanism, which were rolled over into General Appropriations portion of the state budget. “We all know what happens to the General appropriations, they get spent right away,” Beauman said. “Almost all of our contracts with local providers rely on funding from the Senior Living Trust.

“Without these dollars we don’t have enough funding to pay for these services,” Beauman explained. “But, Governor-elect Terry Branstad is “senior friendly and I feel very certain that he will do the best he can to serve seniors.”

Noting that $121,000 had been spent for services in Palo Alto County in the previous year. Beauman then requested that the Supervisors fund Northwest Aging to the tune of $7,204. “This represents $2.70 for each of the 2,668 people who are age 60 and older that live in Palo Alto County, according to the 2000 Census, as we haven’t received the 2010 Census figures yet.”

The board also took that request under advisement, pending the beginning of the budgeting process.

In a more drastic budget discussion, the board learned that Seasons Mental Health Services in Spencer was requesting a county contribution of $44,000 by December 15 to help offset budgetary difficulties. County Mental Health Director Maureen Sandberg discussed a meeting of the Seasons Board and directors of Mental Health services from the nine counties served by the organization.

“Basically, the reason they’re in such desperate financial shape is the fact that Buena Vista County pulled out of the organization and that represented a tremendous loss of revenue,” Sandberg said. “There were also issues with a computer system purchase and unemployment costs, because when they reduced several non-revenue positions this year and Oak Haven up at the Lakes, they have to pay the unemployment costs themselves since they are a non-profit organization, instead of the state unemployment trust fund.”

Sandberg noted the unemployment costs themselves were $45,000 per month for Season.

Supervisors Jerry Hofstad and Kieth Wirtz, who both serve on the Seasons Executive Board, explained that the organization will cut an additional nine staff positions and closed the office it had in Buena Vista County, which remained open even after the county had ended its affiliation, because some residents wanted to continue their relationships with Seasons.

“With all that, and the contributions from the member counties, Seasons projects to break even at the end of the fiscal year,” Sandberg said.

When asked what Palo Alto County currently spends for Seasons services during the year, Sandberg replied the annual cost is $85,000.

“I hate it but I don’t see where we have any choice,” Wirtz said. “If we lose Seasons, our county mental health costs will skyrocket,” as the other supervisors nodded in agreement.

“If you do this, we’ll have to look at amending the budget,” noted County Auditor Gary Leonard. “It will certainly cut into the cash reserves.”