A perfect storm of cost increases in Children and Youth Services and other county services is causing red flags to be raised as officials begin to craft the county’s 2024 fiscal year budget. 

That message was delivered Thursday, Oct. 5, at the County Commissioners’ bimonthly meeting after department administrator Erin Moyer presented to the board various budgetary items with cost increases. 

Outside of CYS, which comprises a large portion of the county’s annual budget, various current and pending higher expenditures will strain the county’s coffers heading into preparation of the new budget, according to county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.

“As we approach our budget – the county budget – these (CYS expenditures) are big numbers and big components to the county’s budget each year,” said Wolgemuth. “I don’t know if there’s been a year where they’ve ever gone down. Maybe they have, I don’t recall.”

Moyer said an increase in the number of young clients requiring CYS assistance, increased provider rates, and more children having a higher level of placement needs are some factors for her department experiencing increased spending. 

Fewer adults willing to foster children is a contributing factor, too. 

“Sounds like one of the biggest drivers is the reduction in the number of foster parents,” said Wolgemuth. “They save a lot of money for the county because of their placements there instead of spending hundreds of dollars a day (elsewhere).”

Workforce demands in the labor market, in and out of county government, are also causing costs to spike.

“We’re very concerned about not only workforce costs that have been incurred as these contracts are approved, as additional salaries are approved to compete in the workplace market, but this kind of expenditure is going to come to roost as well,” said Wolgemuth in discussing CYS costs and pay raises approved for union and non-union Department of Emergency Services employees earlier in the meeting. “This needs-based budget for ‘24-25 is 30 percent over the implementation budget for 2023-24. I mean, 30 percent is enormous, and that is county share. So there is nowhere else to go for that other than the General Fund.”

Wolgemuth said as budget season approaches, the county is facing a large deficit. (Department heads will be submitting their FY 2024 budget requests for consideration within the coming days.) 

“There isn’t much to be done about this,” said Wolgemuth, to which commission chairman Robert Phillips said, “What alternative do we have?” 

“And with this expenditure, there isn’t one (an alternative),” Wolgemuth replied to Phillips. “This is what society is bringing the agency and what has to be dealt with — and it is not cheap.”

Moyer responded to Wolgemuth’s comment by telling the County Commissioners that the state may not necessarily provide additional funding if her agency spends beyond what it has budgeted. 

“Ultimately, if we don’t budget for it, then we’re not guaranteed these funds, so if we go into ‘24 without this money budgeted and we end up spending more money than what we had projected, there’s no guarantee that the state is going to come back and amend to give their portion of our over expenditure,” said Moyer. “Whereas, if we go in with this budget and we come under, then that’s wonderful.”  

Moyer said if department expenditures are projected at $15 million but the County Commissioners only approve $13 million and costs hit the higher estimate, then the additional $2 million is the county’s responsibility to pay with no certainty that state government will cover those additional costs. 

“There’s no real choice in the matter when you are talking about child safety and needing these services,” said Moyer. “I mean, how do we determine which families are turned down or turned away?” said Moyer. “It’s concerning.”

Wolgemuth noted CYS is one of several county agencies that provide mandatory services that benefit the safety and well-being of county residents.

“These are services that a county must provide,” said Wolgemuth. “Just like it is for 911, which we got (media) coverage of recently, and the jail. All of these things that are our responsibility and costs are going up — tremendously.” 

Read More: Payment for 911 services through monthly user surcharge is in peril

The needs-based budget request for CYS for FY 2024-25 is nearly $15.35 million with the county’s share at $3.57 million, which is an increase over last year’s implementation budget. 

Moyer said the implementation budget for FY 2023-24, which was approved last year, is certified at over $12.57 million with the county’s share being set at nearly $2.74 million. Budget implementation is done to help ensure that required resources are available to facilitate the completion of proposed actions and accomplish planned objectives. 

The projected budget for FY 2023-24 is $13.8 million due to increased salaries and placements, higher in-home service costs and more in-home services being provided. The county’s share based on the projected budget is $2.85 million, an increase of nearly $111,000.  

Contracts for service and placement providers have also increased, Moyer informed the commissioners when presenting those items for a board vote.

“The agency has a total of 35 service provider contracts, with 18 not requesting any increases,” said Moyer. “The remaining 17 service providers have requested increases with an average of 3 percent.”

The agency has 52 placement provider contracts, with 16 not requesting any increases or medical assisted-funding facilities at no cost to the agency. The other 36 have requested an average increase of 7 percent, which all fall within the state-approved rate.

“These increases are due to increasing wages to attract employees and an increased need for more specialized/trauma-informed care with these placements and services,” said Moyer.

Wolgemuth noted that the 7 percent increase is higher than the rate of inflation, adding that some providers require a per diem fee of $525 per child. Moyer added that rates average between $400 and $600 per placed child per day.

For FY 2022-23, CYS was certified at $11.1 million with a county share of $2.2 million. Final department costs were $12.9 million, an overage of nearly $1.8 million with the county’s share at $2.8 million, an increase of $572,544 over the certified amount. 

Of the $12.9 million that comprised departmental costs, CYS spent $10.5 million and Juvenile Probation’s portion was $2.4 million, the latter figure being an underage of $274,890. Fewer available placement facilities and fewer placements due to COVID-19 contributed to lower spending for JP, noted Moyer.

The commissioners unanimously approved all of the items as presented along with fourth quarter invoices for FY 2022-23 in the amount of $2.01 million, and a contract with Northampton Juvenile Justice Center in the amount of $385 per day per child for secure detention services.

It was noted that anyone interested in becoming a foster parent should call CYS at 717-224-4430 and ask for Michelle. The department has expanded its foster parent training and outreach in cooperation with a nonprofit to encourage more individuals to become foster parents, added Moyer. 

The commissioners also voted to approve a number of debt payments from the general fund to various general obligation bonds to pay principal and interest due for them on Oct. 15.

Those debt payment transfers are:

  • $14,469.20 for general obligation bond Series A of 2016 bank loan at Fulton Financial.
  • $1,103,298 for the Fulton Bank loan.
  • $142,668.01 for general obligation bond Series of 2017 at Fulton Financial.
  • $218,223.52 for general obligation bond Series of 2015A at Fulton Financial. 
  • $674,808 for general obligation bond Series of 2021 at Fulton Financial.   

In other county business, the commissioners voted to: 

  • Approve a Memorandum of Agreement with Chocolate Workers’ Union Local 464 on behalf of county employees in the Department of Emergency Services Telecommunicators Unit for an across-the-board wage increase of $2 per hour. They also approved an increase of up to $2 per hour, or the closest step not to exceed $2 per hour, for non-union, casual part-time telecommunicators in DES. Both of these agreements are effective on Oct. 15.
  • Issue a proclamation approved by the county’s labor attorney that would require sheriff deputies to protect county property and assure public safety in case of a strike by county employees.  
  • Accept the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) initial allocation from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for fiscal year 2023-24 in the amount of $1.36 million.
  • Name three individuals to be MATP drivers. 
  • Provide $5,700 through the county’s hotel tax grant fund program to Mount Gretna Summer Concerts Inc. to advertise their 2024 concert series with various local media outlets, via social media channels and other communication methods.
  • Grant real estate exemptions for two fully disabled veterans.
  • Approve the minutes of their Sept. 21 meeting, the treasurer’s report, and various personnel transactions.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting of the county commissioners is Thursday, Oct. 19.  

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...