Delays in DSS contract raise concerns

The St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services building at 6 Judson St. in Canton. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Delays in enacting a support contract between the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services and the county attorney’s office led some legislators to cry foul Monday.

In December, the county Board of Legislators allowed the office of County Attorney Stephen D. Button to assist the county Department of Social Services with some of its caseload due to staff shortages.

The county Department of Social Services has seen an uptick in the number of support cases, leading the county attorney’s office to render services for the current calendar year, which it has done at various times in the past.

Three months later, the contract has yet to be instituted, leading some legislators to question the promptness with which the county Department of Social Services is handling the matter, though Commissioner Cynthia Ackerman asserts the delays are due to cost constraints and complications with New York state.

Legislator John Burke, R-Norfolk, noted that “there were concerns expressed about the promptness and follow-through” dealing with the contract, which was approved Dec. 7 of last year and originally came at the request of DSS.

Mrs. Ackerman noted that her department does not have unilateral authority to sign such a support contract without first gaining approval from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which has slowed the process. The commissioner stated there were concerns that the reimbursement rates included in the contract — initially listed at $98 per hour — would fail to gain approval from the state.

Mrs. Ackerman asserted that “this was not pushed off in any way, shape or form” and due diligence was taken to follow the board directive, but added that her department’s decisions must be cost effective.

“I take very seriously what this department is spending, and what we can and cannot spend,” she said during Monday night’s full board meeting.

Legislator Rick Perkins, D-Potsdam, asked if some savings could be attained if the county attorney’s office were to assume responsibility for all legal aid within DSS, which drew fire from several other legislators, including Mr. Burke and Legislator Margaret Haggard, D-Potsdam.

“I don’t know that is the best direction,” the county attorney said. “I’m already carrying a whole bunch.”

Mrs. Ackerman described her current legal department of five lawyers as “amazing” and “dedicated to providing services to children.”

“It would be detrimental to the department to remove that,” she added.

Mr. Burke said he gets “a little uncomfortable when it looks like we’re talking about turf and responsiveness to our directives,” adding that there are “burning issues” with DSS that should take precedence over the contract.

“We should keep the big issues in our sight,” he added.

Mr. Burke also took aim at the suggestions of Mr. Perkins.

“What would possess anyone to suggest there should be a change in leadership?” Mr. Burke asked.

“It is mind boggling, the boldness of some of our legislators in assuming they know better than our county department heads,” he added. “How ridiculous, how stupid.”

Mr. Burke said he was “insulted” for Mrs. Ackerman, adding that she’s a “very, very competent leader.”

Mr. Perkins restated his position, asserting that “if the department needs the support, that’s what I’m interested in giving them, all the support we can,” while also noting that the county attorney’s office would be up to the task if needed.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

JohnMcElroy

Not just a little vague but very vague about what they are trying to do here. Explain to us what these "contracts"are and what they are needed for. The whole letter skirts around an issue about what? If you folks are operating without enough funds please tell us. I assume that is the problem or you need more help.

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