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LSS gets raise, after hand-wringing

The Wadena County Social Services Board hesitated to increase the $67 hourly rate it pays for in-home therapy to $69 in the light of employee wage negotiations, but eventually approved it after a social services supervisor explained the value of the service.

Jane Erckenbrack, a social services supervisor, told commissioners that Lutheran Social Services provides therapists for intensive in-home sessions for families. The program can use medical assistance if families qualify for it, otherwise it is the only program where the county can pay for services for those who don't have a pay source.

LSS doesn't ask for an increase every year, Erckenbrack said, and she thinks she trusts LSS's assessment of its needs.

Erckenbrack asked the board to support the contract even though she knows it's a tough time to ask for any increases. She said the county's cap for the program would remain at $30,000. The intensive in-home therapy budget was $30,000 this year and the county came in around $7,000 under that, she said.

Board Chairman Lane Waldahl asked what would happen if the board didn't approve the increase.

Erckenbrack didn't know, she said. LSS may decide it can't subsidize the difference. The county only pays mileage for therapists who travel to families who are outside a 10-mile radius of Wadena, she said. If the county has to send these families to Detroit Lakes, Brainerd or somewhere else it would pay mileage for those not on medical assistance.

In-office therapy works for some families, Erckenbrack said. For others, there's a lot to be gained by having a therapist visit their home.

Waldahl said his only concern was giving a raise for a contract when he can't give raises to county employees.

Erckenbrack responded by saying that it means a lot for workers to have resources available for the families they work with.

"We all would like raises," she said. "But it's very frustrating to have a family that needs a service and you don't have a service to provide for them."

Around six therapists used to serve this area, she said. Now there are only about two.

Social services used to budget $70,000 for this service, but has decreased its use of in-home therapy by changing its approach, Erckenbrack said. Otter Tail County pays $250,000 a year for this same service.

Human Services Director Paul Sailer said that as the amount has gone down, the overhead portion of the cost has gone up for LSS.

Commissioner Bill Stearns said a justification for increasing contractual costs rather than employee hourly wages is that the county still pays the increased costs associated with employees even if it doesn't increase their salaries.

LSS might not pay their employees more, they may just need more money to operate, he said.

After some suggestions to negotiate for a partial increase, the board voted to approve the $69 an hour contract not to exceed $30,000 for 2010.