Commissioners find tough reception at youth services

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Grant County Commissioners Richard Stevens and Cindy Carter listen as Youth Services Manager Michelle Slininger describes the work of her department.

EPHRATA — The Grant County Commission found itself having to approve a $524,000 budget extension for the county youth services department to cover costs involved with the switch of detention to Martin Hall in Medical Lake.

However, the extension won’t actually cost the county any addition money.

“We figured them in, we just forgot to budget them,” said County Commission Chair Richard Stevens.

Stevens attributed the oversight to the “state of flux” in the last three months of 2017 as the commissioners struggled to balance the county’s budget.

According to Pepper Teterud, an administrative assistant with Grant County Youth Services, the budget extension also deals with salaries and benefits “not calculated properly” in last year’s county budget.

Last December, commissioners closed the juvenile detention facility in Grant County as part of the effort to close a $1.2 million shortfall in the county budget. The county expects to save around $500,000 every year by contracting its juvenile detention facilities with Martin Hall, a facility in Medical Lake.

A sometimes tense, hour-long meeting with some of the 16 employees of the county’s youth services operation highlighted a few of the problems youth services has been facing — including bearing the brunt of the county’s budget cutting.

“This is my 11th budget year, and it was the toughest,” Commissioner Cindy Carter told youth services employees. “We had to make some tough decisions and you felt them here.”

“In January, we still had to make cuts. There is a hiring freeze, and we have some great long-term employees who lost their jobs at the worst time,” she said.

“As a commissioner, I’m sorry,” Carter added.

Youth Services employees were suspicious of the commissioners and angry, feeling their work was not valued and concerned that because of the hiring freeze, essential positions will go unfilled.

“I don’t see us as a priority in this county,” one employee said.

“I don’t see you as any less a priority than any other department,” Stevens replied.

“The proof is in the pudding,” the employee responded.

Carter and Stevens said they expected that Youth Services would be an exception to the current county hiring freeze, but that job descriptions take time to make their way through the county’s Human Resources department.

“Once things get to us, it goes pretty fast. It’s just getting to us,” Stevens said.

According to Michelle Slininger, the manager of youth services, the county is currently housing four young people at Martin Hall. About 60 young people are on probation in Grant County, and another 240 are in the youth services system for chronic truancies, though Slininger said truancies are increasingly being handled by district truancy boards.

“Schools really do a lot of the work, but we help them,” Slininger said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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