Budget uncertain with child care fund overages

ALPENA — Three years ago the Alpena County budget was decimated because of overruns in the child placement line item in the child care fund. During Wednesday’s finance committee meeting the commissioners were informed expenditures for placements are on the rise again.

Family Division of Circuit Court Financial Officer Janelle Packer said the child care budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 and there already has been more than $80,000 spent on having juveniles placed in protective and corrective facilities. The county budgeted $300,000 for the expense, but with three kids in long-term placement, that figure is likely to balloon.

Twenty-sixth Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack said at times the court is put into a position where kids are committing crimes that require placement, but before a decision is made, cost to the county is considered.

“There are kids roaming the streets, breaking into people’s homes in order to steal marijuana. We have to get them off the streets for public safety,” Mack said.

Commissioner Cam Habermehl asked Mack how many children are released from placement and then commit crimes and go to prison afterward. He wondered if the county’s spending was paying dividends and making a positive impact in their lives, or delaying the inevitable when they get into trouble again. Packer said sending a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old youth to prison with adults isn’t always the answer.

“I just don’t think a kid’s story is written when he is 15 or 16 years old,” she said.

Placement for a child can cost the county hundreds of dollars a day and one of the three being housed now the tally is $314. Packer said the court bills the parents or guardians of the kids for the placement, but few can afford to pay what is owed.

“We set up payment plans, but there aren’t many who can afford $10,000 a month,” she said.

Habermehl said he doesn’t want to see a repeat or what happened in the past where the county was on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars above what was budgeted for placement. He said at the current rate, however, another overrun seems likely.

“It looks like there is going to be at this point,” he said. “I don’t know what else we can do though.”

In other business:

∫ the committee voted to recommend accepting a $56,060 Operation Stonegarden Grant with no county match. The grant is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be used for a new engine on the sheriff’s department patrol boat and overtime costs for lake patrols.

∫ the committee recommended spending $14,755 for computers. It is part of the county’s computer refresh program where computers are replaced on a revolving basis.

∫ the committee recommended 88th District Court be allowed to submit a grant request for $400,000 for adult drug court. The funding would be for three years.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.