Highland County Job and Family Services Director Katie Smith met Wedensday with the Highland County Board of Commissioners, stating that there were now 190 children in foster care, along with 37 who were in agency custody awaiting permanent adoption.
She said her office was preparing for an expected influx of abuse and neglect reports since the schools are reopening, “and we’ve got a lot of kids in the county who haven’t had eyes laid on them in five or six months, and we’re worried that with school back in, those reports are going to go up.”
She said that more than half of the 37 children in agency custody were in their current homes with families that wanted to adopt them, but due to court backlogs caused by the pandemic shutdown, those hearings have been delayed.
“Placement costs are around $300,000 a month, and about $3.5 million a year,” she said. “We’re doing our best to move money around and keep those costs paid.”
Two other items Smith brought before commissioners were the lease on the fleet of vehicles for her office through Enterprise, and a requested change in the probation period for both new hires and internal transfers and promotions.
She said at a recent annual meeting with Enterprise, they recommended her office trade in and replace their fleet of vehicles, which she said would save JFS about $3,000 a year.
“The Enterprise people told us that due to the car manufacturers shutting down for COVID, the used car lots were empty,” Smith said. “There is a premium on used cars now, so they want those ‘gently used cars’ like ours to be able to sell.”
She said JFS intended to trade-in the 10 Nissan Sentra’s and the two vans, in addition to the Ford Fusion the agency purchased in 2016, for a total of 10 replacement cars and three vans for the new automobile rental program with Enterprise.
Commissioners also approved her request for a change in the employment probationary period from six months to 12 months on new hires, and six months for transferred and promoted personnel.
Senior county dog warden Lanny Brown II presented commissioners with data to support his request that he and fellow dog warden Macy Walker be permitted to carry a gun when on duty.
“The public is able to carry a sidearm for safety, and I feel that we should be able to carry for ours,” he said.
He cited statistics that showed there had been 48 dog bite fatalities in the United States in 2019, and that Ohio ranked third in dog bites behind California and Illinois in the last five years.
“When I ask about us carrying a fire arm, it’s there for our safety due to the dangers we face each and every day,” Brown II said.
Commissioner Gary Abernathy expressed opposition to the proposal, with all three commissioners citing liability issues as the main concern.
“I’m not in favor of our dog warden carrying a gun,” Abernathy said. “I’m not opposed to a shotgun in the trunk, carrying a side arm is what I’m talking about.”
Commissioner Terry Britton reiterated that it was established policy that no county employee could carry a weapon or firearm on county premises unless authorized by law, and he joined Abernathy and commission president Jeff Duncan in his opposition to allowing the county dog wardens to be armed.
Also Wednesday, after a short recess to allow Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins to join the meeting, continued COVID-19 funding requests and reimbursements from the S-22 Coronavirus Relief Fund were submitted to the review board, which consists of Abernathy, Duncan, Britton, Collins and auditor Bill Fawley. Submissions included:
• Highland County Recorder for the amount of $154,896 for digitization of county records back to the year 1980. County recorder Chad McConnaughey said his request would satisfy a qualification within CARES funding that would limit the amount of people who had to come in and out of the office, by making the needed documentation available for download online. It was approved, with McConnaughey adding that at present online county records go back to 1988, with a typical title search extending back at least 40 years.
• Highland County Emergency Management Agency submitted a request for reimbursement of $654 for the repair of a generator that provided power during outages to both the EMA office and the health department. It was approved by the board, but recommended that the request be verified with the state Office of Budget and Management (OBM) to determine if it was an allowable expense.
• Highland County Engineer Chris Fauber’s request for $59,326 for unbudgeted administrative leave for workers sent home during the pandemic lock down was tabled until October due to Collins’ contention that the money was already in the engineer’s budget at the start of the year and didn’t present a qualifying shortfall. She questioned the true definition of “unfunded administrative leave,” maintaining that the county engineers budget “paid those that were furloughed, whether they were on the job or not.” It was the recommendation of the review board that the request be postponed until greater definition from the OBM could be obtained. Another request for $880 for website upgrades to allow for forms to be filled out and submitted online, thereby reducing traffic into and out of the engineers office, was approved.
• Highland County Common Pleas Court’s request for reimbursement of $604 was approved.
In other matters, a total of eight resolutions met with commission approval, along with a change order for the county engineer regarding the 2020 Highland County Chip Seal Program for county roadways, and a contract with the Family and Children First Council for mental health and addiction services.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.