There won’t be a mega $350 million multi-use retail center rising from the ground in Butler County this year but there are several initiatives in the social services realm that will make a difference to many people.
The changes at Job and Family Services this year aren’t actually of the county’s own doing. Last year, Gov. John Kasich introduced an initiative that is designed to pull people out of poverty by marrying public assistance and workforce efforts.
Shelly Hoffman, communications director for Kasich’s Office of Human Services Innovation (OHSI), has said the plan is all about providing a “seamless” path out of poverty by coordinating the efforts of the public assistance side of JFS and the workforce arm.
“It’s looking at who we currently serve and serving them in a different way,” she said. “Everyone would have a comprehensive case management plan that’s tailored to their individual barriers so that we can help move people more quickly to being self sufficient, so we can get them into jobs, get them into better jobs.”
The governor set quick deadlines for implementation and penalties for failure, but relaxed the deadlines last summer. Initially, the budget bill set a deadline of last month for county JFS agencies to target workforce, education and training services for teens and young adults ages 16-24. The implementation of the one-stop-shop plan for the rest of the impoverished population was July 2016.
The deadline for the 16-to-24 population has been moved to July and implementation for the rest of the population has been put on hold.
The new model requires more of a social worker approach to helping people, and Jerome Kearns, assistant director of JFS, said they have hired staff to fill those roles. In the beginning, there were many questions about things like funding — no new money was identified just the redirection of $310 million — technology needs for a merged system and others. Kearns said the picture is a bit clearer now than when it was first announced.
“We’re gaining some information about it, so there is some clarity about it,” he said. “But there is still a fair amount of uncertainty and unknown. We at least know what the draft assessment tool looks like now, we know there is going to be a plan we put in place for these individuals, and in Butler County, we’re going to identify three staff who are going to be working with them.”
Another major initiative is the the brain child of Commissioner Cindy Carpenter. She has convened a coalition of partners to help drug addicted pregnant women to pull themselves out of their problem-plagued lives. The program includes not only residential treatment, but recovery housing, life skills training from SELF, help with getting a job from Job and Family Services and support systems from a program called Nurturing Every Step Together (NEST), among other services.
County Administrator Charlie Young said the effort is laudable and huge.
“To target, if you will, pregnant females who have issues and being able to bring wrap around services to them where you’re not just intervening or being there to assist for 60 days or 90 days, but you are able to help them really step through a longer term, maybe nine months or a year, to help them work through issues, get them job training and back into being productive citizens,” he said. “I think that is a bigger thing than perhaps what has been recognized.”
Along those lines the commissioners have also discussed razing the old jail and possibly building a facility to help deal with heroin epidemic. Young said this year could bring at least the demolition of the old jail. Young said there aren’t any major building projects on the near horizon, but the county is beginning to work through a capital projects list that stands at $11 million to $12 million.
In 2015, everyone was abuzz over the $350 million Liberty Center debut. David Fehr, director of development and planning for the county said they don’t have any projects of that scale coming for 2016 but growth hasn’t slowed any. Steiner + Associates and Great Traditions Land & Development Co. have property on the south side of Liberty Way they plan to develop with a combination of residential and commercial.
The Christ Hospital has begun construction of an estimated 125,000-square-foot medical center off Cox Road north of Liberty Way and east of I-75 in Liberty Twp. Fehr said “we’ll definitely see it coming up out of the ground this year.” And Miller-Valentine Group has property east of Cox Road at Liberty Way and Fehr said that development could hit this year.
The other big news out of his department is the online permitting system that is being tested by developers now. Other departments and offices are also looking at technological advances, like Treasurer Nancy Nix and Auditor Roger Reynolds.
“In conjunction with the auditor’s office, our office gave the green light to the Open Checkbook with Treasurer of State Josh Mandel’s office,” Nix said “We believe that should go live in the near future.”
Mandel introduced his online checkbook, that shows governmental expenditures at the end 2014.
Reynolds will also be focusing on other advances and outreach to assist residents, like the additional benefits for disabled veteran homeowners. Veterans who are fully compensated by the Department of Veterans Affairs because of an inability to maintain a job due to a service-related disability now qualify for double the exemption for the Homestead Exemption.
Meanwhile Children Services is also implementing two new programs, one is designed to help families stay together and the other is to help set up support systems for older children so they are not completely alone when they age out of the system.
“There are two things that are kind of equally big,” Children Services Director Bill Morrison said about 2016. “The reinstatement of family preservation services and the permanency round table process. They both have similar goals but they attack different populations.”