Lebanon County will soon have its first-ever social worker placed in the public defender’s office to help get indigent, or poor, defendants on the road to recovery.

Lebanon County will receive $95,501 as part of a statewide grant for the public defender’s office to hire a social worker to begin employment starting in 2025. The goal of this position is to keep those clients from being repeat offenders. 

On Thursday, May 16, commissioners unanimously approved applying by May 23 for a share of a $6.75 million statewide non-competitive grant recently announced by Gov. Shapiro’s administration, according to Megan Tidwell, the county’s chief public defender.

County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said other counties in PA are going the same route, using their grants to integrate a social worker component into their public defender’s office. 

Wolgemuth asked Tidwell to explain why public defender’s offices across the state are adding this service when they have traditionally focused on providing legal defense to those clients. Tidwell said the county employee will direct clients towards housing services, food, health insurance, mental health services, drug and alcohol counseling, educational opportunities, transportation, child care and job placement agencies.

“While they are obviously going to benefit from having those services, it is also going to improve overall representation because we can use that down the line at sentencing to tell the judge that they started here when we got them and now months later they have all of these things lined up and they are in a better place to succeed,” said Tidwell. “But also … so we hopefully don’t see them again.” 

Tidwell said the grant, which spans 18 months, will be used to hire a part-time social worker to start employment in her office on Jan. 1, 2025. There is no indication that the grant program will be renewed.

“Anything that is currently funded, we’re not allowed to replace with these funds,” she noted. “Considering the construction that we’re going to get soon, we’re probably better suited for a part-time social worker. I’m hoping for a start date of Jan. 1 for a 12-month term.”

There are several reasons Tidwell wants to wait until 2025 for this position to be filled.

“This will give us time to get the right person in that position, given that we’ve never had one. It will give us time to figure out how to utilize the position and then we’ll also have the workspace to accommodate that position,” she said. “Currently, I don’t know where I would put them.” 

Prior to the commissioners’ vote, Tidwell noted that most indigent clients require various kinds of assistance with social services, so this position will help fulfill that need.  

In other business, commissioners voted unanimously to hire Mountville-based Community Services Group as the transition-aged youth housing support case management provider for start-up costs totaling $45,173. That contract is good through June 30. 

Read More: Lebanon County officials to create residence for transition-aged youth

Costs for fiscal year 2024-25 will be negotiated and presented to the commissioners for approval at one of their regularly scheduled June meetings. 

Holly Leahy, administrator for Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention (MH/ID/EI), said CSG will staff the transition-aged home on North 12th Street that was purchased in March. 

The projected cost for the home was cited at a March 6 workshop of the commissioners at $446,448. The Lebanon County Housing and Redevelopment Authority is partnering with the county’s mental health department on this housing project.

The project, which was paid through capital funding from the state Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will provide housing and support services for up to three adults aged 18 to 24 who have been diagnosed with mental health disabilities and have a history of substance abuse.

Leahy said home renovations will continue through Aug. 20 with a tentative move-in date of Sept. 1. When renovations are completed, the referral team will begin to evaluate the best available candidates for available bed space.

“Once we have the housing support case manager, it will be great to involve that individual in the referral process and then have them set to go into the home on Sept. 1,” Leahy told commissioners.

In a separate action item from the MH/ID/EI department, the commissioners unanimously voted to approve nine provider contract amendments totaling $119,279 for fiscal year 2023-24. The contracts cover such services as in-home and community support services, physical and speech therapies, transitional age youth housing support case management and peer support services.

Commissioners also received three non-action reports for organizations including the Lebanon County Commission for Women/Lebanon County Historical Society and Friends of Coleman Park, and a first quarter update on the county pension program from Stifel, the county’s financial advisers.

Representatives from the women’s commission and historical society discussed the October premiere of an exhibit tentatively titled, “Women’s History of Lebanon County.” The exhibit will celebrate prominent local females and their contributions to the military, education, the arts, social and political causes, industry, sports and women’s suffrage.

An invite-only ceremony to kick off the exhibit is tentatively planned for late September with the exhibit opening to the public on Oct. 1. Representatives said they hope to incorporate school tours so that students can understand the important role women have played in local history. 

Cindy Schlegel, president of the Friends of Coleman Memorial Park, thanked commissioners for providing funds through a Marcellus Shale grant so her organization could plant hybrid American chestnut trees. These trees replaced native American chestnut trees that had been decimated by disease. 

In other business, commissioners voted to:

  • Approve a Children and Youth Services contract for fiscal year 2024-25 totaling $9,824.97 annually for an automated case management system with Camp Hill-based Avanco Inc. The county has been doing business with this company for many years.
  • Extend by one year a Marcellus Shell Grant contract with Jonestown Borough that was originally approved on June 15, 2022. Borough officials plan to piggybank the grant with others to fully fund a flashing crosswalk lights project. The extension request was made because receipt of funding from the other grants has been delayed.  
  • Appointed Matt Bugli as the county’s Right-to-Know officer, effective June 1. The position was previously held by Wolgemuth.
  • Accept the resignation of Randy Leisure from the county Conservation District board of directors effective May 31. Earlier in the week, Leisure resigned his position as chairman of the North Annville Township supervisors due to health reasons. Associate director Jim Tomanelli has agreed to fill out the remainder of Leisure’s term through Dec. 31 as farmer director.
  • Provide a hotel tax grant fund request totaling $5,000 of an expected total cost of $53,595 for the Pennsylvania Brown Swiss and Maryland Brown Swiss association’s 2025 National Brown Swiss Convention. That event is scheduled for June 25-28, 2025, at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center.
  • Sell the county’s 2000 Blue Bird Q-Bus 3705 for $2,325.22 to TJ Star Industries Inc. of Mount Sinai, New York. This was the only bid received for the bus, which had been stored locally for years at Brightbill Transportation and was in need of repairs, which were performed by Brightbill staff. The bus was used by the county’s Area Agency on Aging to transport their clients. 
  • Submit a grant application to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania via its risk pool insurance program for $1,993.70 for civil unrest personal protection equipment and a training mat for the county sheriff’s department. The PPE gear includes knee/shin pads, baton rings, baton stops, and a 10-by-10 foot training mat.
  • Grant real estate tax exemptions to six fully disabled veterans or their spouses. 
  • Approve the minutes of their May 1 meeting and May 2 workshop, treasurer’s report and various personnel transactions. Commissioners also approved on-call pay with the union representing the sheriff’s departments from 2021 through 2023. The agreement stipulates that the money will be paid in a lump sum with no further on-call wage payments being owed for that three-year period. 

Following adjournment of the public meeting, the commissioners convened an executive session to discuss personnel matters.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the county commissioners is on June 6 beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Room 207 of the county building at 400 S. 8th St., Lebanon.

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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...


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