Commissioners hear argument for use of Davis Avenue site

The director of Washington County Job and Family Services explained to the commissioners on Thursday his reasoning for why the merging Children Services and DJFS should move into 204 Davis Ave.

Freimann said he wanted to express to the commissioners the need to consolidate existing Children Services and Job and Family Services staff in one building due to the cost savings and the better access of services to residents of the county.

“First, we will have better leveraging of federal funds,” he said.

Freimann said because both entities will be under one roof, they will be able to use the federal funds not available to them otherwise. Freimann said it would save his department $246,089 annually in salary, benefits and operations and maintenance. He said Job and Family Services would get those savings by transferring the existing secretary and a maintenance person at his department’s 1115 Gilman Ave. location into other jobs. He said he would also transfer a person involved with finances to a new position as well.

Freimann said the alternative of staying at separate locations would negate the financial benefits of merging Children Services and Job and Family Services. He said income maintenance, which includes food vouchers, health insurance and other public assistance for his department, would lose their funding because of the separate locations of Job and Family Services.

“It would cost an additional $135,349 on top of the money we have already allocated,” he said. “If we continue to operate in two buildings it puts us in audit risk.”

Freimann told the commissioners the main goal of the merger, to provide better services, would also be in jeopardy if his organization was not at a single location.

“It’s about improving services to people in this county,” he said. “We would miss out on the ability to provide holistic wraparound services.”

Freimann also gave the commissioners a more detailed explanation as to why the Davis Avenue location would be better suited than the Gilman Avenue location for the merged organization.

Freimann said the extra visitation center at Davis Avenue would provide a better environment for workers to supervise family visits than the two available at Gilman Avenue.

“It enables us to make better recommendations to the court,” he said.

Freimann said the extra visitation center would help with the logistics of getting the child, foster parents and birth parents to meet at an agreed time. After several visits, Freimann said they could give a more detailed recommendation to the juvenile court whether to return the child to the birth parents or to retain custody of the child.

Freimann also said the training room in the basement of the Davis Avenue location is needed to train potential foster parents in the care of children. He said that the room would also keep his staff from having to travel to other places in the state to receive their training. Freimann said there is even the potential for the county to profit financially.

“We could become a training hub for the DJFS,” he said.

Freimann said other Job and Family Service agencies throughout the state could come to Washington County, spending money at its businesses, increasing the tax revenue.

Freimann said if the new organization was forced to move to Gilman Avenue, another service could potentially be hampered.

“The Ohio Means Jobs Center had 3,900 visits in 2018. They are on pace to get 4,200 in 2019,” he said.

The organization currently housed at the Gilman Avenue location provides job seeking skills to people looking for employment. Freimann said they would lose counseling and mock interview rooms in order for Children Services to move in..

Freimann also said that concerns over the almost half-a-million-dollar cost of renovating the building wouldn’t be as much of a strain on his budget if the county’s A++ bond rating could be used. Freimann said the bond would cover the construction, legal fees and financing of the remodel.

“We currently pay the county $85,000 a year for rent,” he said. “After the bond, we would pay from $110,000 to $120,000 a year on the high end.”

During the March 7 meeting, Freimann informed the commissioners his department would handle 85 percent of the cost of the renovation, leaving 15 percent to be collected from the county’s general fund to finish the project.

Freimann insisted that keeping his agency at different locations would be financially detrimental to the county.

“Doing nothing costs the county money,” he said.

David White, president of the Washington County commissioners, said if the Davis Avenue location was chosen for the consolidation, both the commissioners and the board of elections would have to move immediately.

“We can be housed anywhere,” he said.

But White had concern with moving the board of elections due to the purchase of new voting machines that are planned to be used in this year’s elections.

“New voting equipment is usually tested in an off-year election. A move could be problematic for that,” he said. “Whereever (the board of elections) moves it will be a cost to the county’s general fund…The board of elections can’t be moved in my opinion until 2021.”

White also said if Job and Family Services moved into 204 Davis Ave., multiple agencies would have to find new locations around the county. White said the other option suited him better.

“I believe the best thing to do would be to move Children Services across the river (to Gilman Avenue),” he said.

White said since the consolidation of Job and Family Services could affect many agencies in the county, a better understanding of what the move will entail is needed before a final decision is made by the commissioners.

“A more comprehensive plan needs to be made first,” he said.

Dennis Sipe, chairman of the board of elections, agreed with White that holding off moving his department would benefit the voters in the county.

“We just want to make sure the upcoming elections are fair and honest,” he said.