In a 4-1 vote at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, the BOC approved funding that would allow the continuation of the long-standing Child Support Services program in the Cobb Judicial Circuit which receives funding from grants from the state and federal government.
District 1 Commissioner Keli Gambrill opposed the funding.
The item had originally been on the consent agenda, which means that the item was supported unanimously prior to the meeting, but Commissioner Gambrill requested that the two agenda items related to the program be removed from consent.
“I cannot support agenda items number five and six on the agenda,” Gambrill said. “After much discussion with our county attorney, essentially, these agenda items are increasing the budget of the DA in order for them to perform services, and we have not given other departments increases in their budgets to do so.”
What was the purpose of the agenda items?
Both agenda items were requests to fund the Child Support Services program, which according to District Attorney Flynn Broady has been operating at the same level of staffing for more than a decade.
Here is the background explaining the program, reprinted from the agenda on the first item in the request:
The Division of Child Support Services offers full services to Custodial Parents with locating Non-Custodial Parents to establish paternity, establish a child support order, or enforce an existing child support order and collection of Arrears. Our services are offered to any Cobb County resident when the other party is residing in another state, which identifies our Division as a Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) Office.
The Division of Child Support Services currently has 17 full-time grant funded employees, 1 part-time grant funded position, and an Assistant District Attorney partially funded by the grant assigned to support the Division.
This contract will fund the Division’s operations for the last three months of the County’s FY2022 period and the first nine months of the County’s FY2023 period. This State FY2023 grant is for the period of July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. This contract has been reviewed by the County Attorney’s Office.
The second agenda item associated with the program stated that the state’s Division of Child Support Services identified additional funding that would allow them to give a one-time additional subsidy to each of the Judicial Circuits that it might reduce the funding necessary to keep the program going.
This agenda item asked that the on-time additional funding be put in contingency for use if needed.
What were the issues raised by Gambrill?
“The agenda item says that, you know, they’re requesting funding of a total of $328,459.17,” Gambrill said. “because they have an analysis of expenditures over the past year, which reflects that shortage. Therefore, I cannot support this agenda item, we have not funded other departments that have had shortages or have needed additional funding in order to run their offices.”
What was the answer of the county manager, District Attorney, and Finance Director to Gambrill’s concerns?
District Attorney Flynn Broady said the reason this budgetary item is requested as a supplement is that the difference in the state’s fiscal year budget and the county’s creates a situation where the county does not know what the grant funding for the program will be until late in the county’s budget discussions. Further, the staff positions are county employees, so the difference between the salary caps set by the grant, and pay and benefits of Cobb County employees have to be met with a subsidy from the county.
“In the past, the county has subsidized our Child Support Unit, it’s been doing that for probably the past 10 to 15 years,” Broady said. “Without that money, we cannot fund this department at all. Basically, that department even though it receives federal and state funding, it’s not enough to cover the salaries and all the things that they do.”
“And they do a very tremendous work here in Cobb County, as far as making sure that the kids that are not getting child support are getting those child support orders, collecting the money to provide for the child support for our children in our community,” he said.
“Item number six, the the state found some money that they hadn’t appropriated before and subsidized us to reduce some of the subsidy that we have been providing. Almost cutting it in half as I see that. But this is something that the county has always done in the past. It’s, I guess, because of the need,” said Broady.
Gambrill asked, “But then I guess this is a question of the county manager and also to Bill Volckmann. If this has been going on for 10 years, why aren’t we doing a better job budgeting?”
County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris said, “What I hear you asking you is why haven’t we done a better job budgeting? Every budgetary item comes before the Board of Commissioners for approval. So the DA stands here today to ask you to support something that has been going on for over a decade.”
Broady said, “We don’t know exactly what they’re gonna get until we actually get the contract. And we usually only get the contract maybe a month before this presentation actually occurs. And even the subsidy we only got a couple of weeks ago that they were going to even subsidize some additional money.”
District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell asked, “Is this proposed for next year’s budget that we’re working on now, but we you won’t know the exact amount until the grant comes through?”
Broady said that is correct.
“And the deadline is in two days?” Birrell asked.
“The problem with child support is that they’re on the fiscal year of the state government versus our fiscal year,” Broady said.
District 4 Commissioner Monique Sheffield said, “And I just simply want to add, I know that there are several departments that have come before the Board of Commissioners in advance of the budget, being tasked to ask for funding to staff, to appropriately staff, employees to help move the work along.”
“But for me, where this is different, we’re dealing with children in this respect, and we’re dealing with support for those children, financial support, namely, so you know, there are instances where we will need to determine, and I dare say prioritize the importance of staffing that we, that we put ahead of the budget items.
“I think this is one of those items, considering the interest of time and the deadline just being two days away,” she said.
“And the services that will come out on the other side of this are our children, in most cases, our most vulnerable children that will receive support for for lunch during summer school, or during the summer when they don’t have meals available to them for medical care, and whatever financial supplements they think their families may be in need of so for that reason, I support this agenda item,” said Sheffield.
Broady said, “And Commissioner Sheffield, just so you know, this request has no additional personnel attached to it. This is funding for the current staff that we have, which for instance, in our Child Support Division has not changed in the last 20 years.”
“And this county has more than doubled in that time frame. And the number of staff that we have in child support has not changed,” he said.
Gambrill said, “So with that being said, you don’t really need these funds, because we’ve already funded these staff members 100 percent, because usually these grants are written that the match will be salary from that employee.”
Broady said, “This grant doesn’t work that way, Commissioner, they basically, based on our population, the state has a pot of money, and they give us a certain percentage.”
“And that’s matched by the federal government almost double what the state gives us,” he said. “And that still leaves us falling short of what we need to run that office.”
County Finance Director Bill Volckmann talked about the way grant-driven budget components work.
“Commissioner, these, like several other grant positions that are primarily state or federal funded are actually not in the general fund,” he said. “They’re in the county’s grant fund.”
“So that’s where you have run into unique challenges when you have state and federal caps on salaries,” said Volckmann. “For example, if our pay exceeds their cap, there is a general fund match. And that’s exactly our contribution or subsidy that would go along with the grant to continue to provide the service because you have a grant or a contract to provide a service and they set the cost.”
“That doesn’t mean that’s what our cost is,” he said. “So if we want to continue to provide a service there is a general fund component, and we have several grants like that.”
“So you do have several grant and grant programs throughout the county that have a general fund component tied to those because of those caps,” he said.
BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid called the question, and the decision to fund the program passed 4-1.