Assembly to decide whether to fund OCS caseworker at lower cost

At its upcoming July 25 meeting, the borough assembly will decide whether to spend $25,000 per year to help keep a state Office of Children’s Services (OCS) caseworker in town or cut funding for the position.

About a year ago, the borough established a cost-sharing deal with the state to bring a caseworker to Wrangell. The deal stipulated that the borough would pay $53,000, half of the position’s annual cost, and provide an office in the Public Safety Building.

Community advocates for the deal hoped that having a caseworker on the island would improve the levels of protection and advocacy available to minors in unsafe situations. The town had been without a caseworker for years.

However, after funding half of the position for about a year, borough officials felt that the town’s caseload didn’t justify the cost. “We don’t have the caseload here to support a full-time person,” said Police Chief Tom Radke in a previous interview. “She handles a very wide area for that agency. If we’re paying half her wages, it’s 20 hours a week in Wrangell. Do we have 20 hours a week in Wrangell? I don’t think so.”

The assembly directed Borough Manager Jeff Good last month to renegotiate the deal with the state in hopes of keeping the caseworker in town at a lower cost to the municipality, commensurate with the caseload. The figure OCS came back with was $25,000, cutting the borough’s cost-sharing role in half.

The borough does not collect hard data on Wrangell’s caseload but, anecdotally, Good believes the $25,000 would be roughly on par with the amount of service the community receives. “We’re getting about a quarter service now, this would be about a quarter of the deal,” Good told the assembly at its June 27 meeting.

At that meeting, the assembly eliminated the borough’s $53,000 contribution, with the understanding that Good would reintroduce a budget amendment based on the new $25,000 figure.

The assembly will vote on this updated deal in late July. The assembly could also vote the amendment down, cutting funding to the position entirely. “We don’t know if we’re going to fund it or not,” said Assembly Member David Powell, who suggested dropping the $53,000 from the budget.

The budget the assembly approved June 27 does not include any funding for the position. Since the fiscal year started July 1, the borough will not contribute to the caseworker’s salary for the month of July. “I just let them (OCS) know we can’t fund it during the first month,” said Good. “We’ll see what the assembly comes back with, whether they want to fund that, and then we’ll reimburse.”

No other Alaska municipalities currently contribute funds to caseworker salaries in their areas, though such deals have existed in the past.


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