Longtime County Employees Reflect On Service
Maureen Sandberg has been the County’s General Assistance and Mental Health go to person since 1993. Hired by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for the position of General Assistance and Mental Health position for the county. At that time there was no mental health per se in the county. She was hired full time to take care of both; at that time there was suspicion that down the line mental health situation for the counties was going to change.
In 1996, the State set up a whole new mental health system based on tax levies; they wanted the counties to take over the mental health system as it was. So, basically, Palo Alto County was very smart in doing what they did in 1993 because they could see what was going to happen.
The CPC Administrator position came into play in 1996 and the county took care of all the mental health costs, paying the bills, monitoring the rates, setting up the services for the people, took care of everything. This went on like this for the county for quite a while and then in the early 2000s, the county took over the State cases of county residents, so then the county paid for all the mental health costs there also. Of course we were reimbursed for the State cases.
“The State had said, when you do this, starting in 1996, we would give you an increase each year. Basically, the State was accepting any growth. This lasted until about 2002, and then the State had no money,” Maureen said.
Then the County was stuck paying for services in 2003 and through with money that was set for us back in 1996. “At this point in time the counties had to become very innovative in how they spent their mental health money because we were limited to what we levied in 1996. It was a struggle. I’m glad we had a levy the way we had it in ’96 because I don’t think we would have been able to pay for the services at that time if we hadn’t of had that,” Sandberg said.
It has now changed so that the state has started to pay for more of the Medicaid services and we don’t pay for them at all. That helped us and this started back in about 2010. Now, just two years ago the regional system was started. That was set up initially to make sure that all consumers in the state were able to receive the same services.
“We’re lucky enough, I guess you could say that our Region is lucky enough to have Palo Alto County’s extra fund balance because otherwise, if we went in that region, they would be cutting services. Unfortunately, I understand where people in Palo Alto County would be upset that our mental health tax money is going to service other counties, but on the same token, if we didn’t have it our people, our mental health individuals would not be receiving the services they are receiving because there wouldn’t be the money there,” Sandberg said. ” It’s helping our consumers as well not just other counties consumers. So there have been a lot of changes.
“A lot of changes have been about money, regardless of what the State tells anyone. They were tired of listening to us complain because we had no money to operate and people were losing services because the money wasn’t there so they basically said “Let’s do this” and in the back of their minds I think it was all about the money because they thought some counties will help others if it’s a regional system. DHS (Department of Human Services) went to a regional system and I think that was about the money. Anytime you go to a regional system, I think it’s about the money.”
After 22 years in her position, Maureen has seen a lot of changes, some good and some bad.
“I’m not excited about leaving in one way because I have been here along time but on the other hand, I have been here along time, so maybe it is time for me to go. I’m not as technologically savvy as I use to be and everything seems to be taken care of by Internet, and I’m having a hard time with that. I like the paper. I think everything will work out. There will be some bugs, but I think they will work through them. They have to, they don’t have a choice,” Sandberg said.
Maureen will be retiring as of December 31st of this year. Going forward, someone from Upper Des Moines will handle General Assistance and all mental health issues will be directed to Dickinson County.
Debra Quamme started working in the Palo Alto County Treasurer’s Office in 1975. Some things have changed dramatically and some have basically stayed the same.
“When I started, we spent the summers typing three part carbon registrations for every vehicle that was licensed in the county and you couldn’t make a mistake,” Debra said.
These registrations included name, address, and vehicle number, basically everything that is on a registration. Everyone came in by the end of the year to register vehicles, so all county residents came in at the same time, nothing was by birth date. Gradually, the State gave them a dummy system to use to type and at that time corrections could be made on the screen by backspacing. The next advance in the system was similar to the computers. In 2005, they were upgraded to actual Windows and did things that way.
“Property taxes have not changed so much over the years. Of course they’ve increased, but have basically remained the same. The main thing was the state decided to change and do staggered registration so that people were in all year long,” Debra said. “It eased the workload because we weren’t bombarded with people coming in all at the same time.”
“Some people are paying online now and some use the mail. We do still have a lot of customers who prefer that personal service at the window. They still come in and there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
In the 40 years that Debra has worked in the Treasurer’s office, she has been through only three Treasurers’, Kathleen Thompson 31 years, Mary Hilfiker eigfht years, and Robin Jamison one year.
Most memorable about the job for Debra has been when a customer writes her a note and mails it to her, thanking her for helping them, or listening to her wait on another customer and saying that she was very kind.
“People do appreciate good customer service and that is what I was told when I was hired,” Debra said. “I will definitely miss the customers.