Mahoning Children Services faces money shortfall

By Peter H. Milliken


The Mahoning County Children Services Board is facing a budget deficit of more than $1 million.

Dr. Thomas M. Gemma, the board’s finance committee chairman, said Tuesday his committee wants to discuss soon with the county commissioners the deficit CSB has been facing since last year and future agency finances.

David Arnold, Children Services’ interim executive director, said CSB suffered a $1.2 million deficit in 2012. “We’re projecting another shrinkage of that amount or more this year,” with substantial spending cuts required in 2014, he added.

The agency needs to stabilize its spending to more closely match its revenues “because I don’t see the revenue going up very much,” Arnold said.

Because of the deficit, the agency’s carryover has now dwindled to about $3 million, Arnold said. The agency spends between $15 million and $16 million a year.

The industry standard is to attempt to carry over between three and six months of operating expenses, he said.

The agency faces escalating residential mental-health treatment-center placement costs for children, sometimes costing more than $400 per child per day, while federal funding and local property-tax revenues have been stagnant, and state funding has been cut, Arnold said.

“We have a very large number of residential placements compared to other counties our size,” Arnold observed, adding that the agency needs to carefully control its residential placements.

“It’s a long-term financial challenge, but I think we need to have some more urgency about that right now,” he said. “It’s like your own budget. If you’re dipping into your savings to pay your bills on a monthly basis, that’s not a good situation,” he added.

“We have more money currently going out than we have coming in, and we have to fix that,” he concluded.

In other business, the board has accepted the resignation of its long-time executive director, Denise Stewart, and appointed Arnold, its former chief supervisor, as interim executive director.

Tuesday’s board resolution said Stewart’s resignation, effective Jan. 1, was accepted “with great appreciation” for her service to children and families.

On Dec. 21, the board had placed Stewart on paid administrative leave through Dec. 31, pending an investigation, whose subject the Rev. Lewis Macklin, board chairman, declined to identify.

“We genuinely appreciate Ms. Stewart’s life-work and her leadership, not only locally, but also at the state level, in child welfare, and wish her the best,” the Rev. Mr. Macklin said. “The fruits of her legacy will certainly be enduring,” he added.

Stewart, a licensed social worker, whose final annual salary was $92,934, had been with CSB for 38 years and had served as the board’s executive director since 1998.

The board appointed Arnold as interim executive director, retroactive to Monday, but did not specify a salary or a time period for his service.

Mr. Macklin described Arnold, who is a licensed social worker, as “a proven veteran administrator and a longtime advocate for children and their families.”

Mr. Macklin added: “We are fully confident that he will assure that this transition will be seamless.”

Arnold worked for CSB for nearly 30 years, leaving as chief supervisor in 2002 to become director of the Family Service Agency, which merged in 2011 with the Burdman Group to form Compass Family and Community Services.

Arnold, 65, of Canfield, who retired in July 2012 as vice president and chief operating officer of Compass, said he would not apply for the permanent CSB directorship.

Arnold said he would meet Friday with Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court to discuss the relationship between the child-welfare agency and the juvenile-justice system.

Mr. Macklin appointed a seven-member search committee to seek a permanent agency director, with board member Brigid Kennedy as committee chairwoman.

Mr. Macklin said he expects the job will be advertised “at least statewide.”

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