Social Services explores consolidation

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FRANKLIN—Franklin and Southampton County already cooperate on a number of fronts, and talks are under way to possibly pair the two communities’ Departments of Social Services.

Officials from the city and the county are in the initial stages of those talks. Both Franklin City Manager June Fleming and Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said the next step is the formation of a preliminary study panel to research the possible benefits and drawbacks of social services consolidation.

“Our caseloads are increasing and there is absolutely no new funding — in fact, they’re decreasing funding, as everyone is, so we need to look at balancing caseloads across localities,” said Beth Reavis, Franklin’s director of Social Services. She said through research and information from other localities, there is “kind of a roadmap for that consolidation effort.”

Reavis said there were some initial concerns about the potential loss of funding from certain streams if the departments were consolidated, however, she was assured that shouldn’t be an issue.

While cost cutting is often a motivator for consolidation eff orts, that is not the case in this situation, Johnson said, adding that even at this preliminary stage, it was clear that consolidation would likely yield “little or no economic savings for either community.”

“It was emphasized that we weren’t necessarily looking for cost savings … but we were really interested in providing the maximum services in the easiest way to the clientele,” Fleming told the City Council last week. “This is not going to happen overnight. Everybody wants to make sure their clientele is protected.”

Reavis said the two departments already work together often because they “transfer cases back and forth all the time.”

During last week’s City Council meeting, Franklin Mayor Jim Councill asked if it would be “too big of a bite” to include Isle of Wight County in the consolidation discussions. “To me, the overriding benefits are the proximity of providing service, and we have a large population just adjacent to Franklin that has to go all the way to Isle of Wight Courthouse to get service,” Councill said.

However, Isle of Wight has not been involved in any discussions at this point.

“We’re looking for the positive effect, for the win-win and economies of scale,”

Reavis said. “Even if we don’t get additional resources, if we have more folks to serve we can leverage our resources better and more efficiently. That’s the kind of economy that I’m looking for.” Fleming said the panel’s findings could show that the current system is the best, “but it would be better to know that than to assume that.”