By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Many groups come to the Wood County Commissioners to get the board’s blessing before putting a levy on the countywide ballot. Very few are able to report that they will be asking for lower millage than in the past.
Wood Lane Superintendent Brent Baer explained the situation to the county commissioners on Thursday. Over the last decade, the agency serving people with developmental disabilities has been able to trim back its levy collections. The board has rolled back its current 2.95-mill levy on multiple years – including collecting just 50 percent of the millage this year.
However, more people with developmental disabilities are seeking more services to live their lives.
That means the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities will likely be on the ballot this November. But instead of going for the same millage, Wood Lane will likely ask for a lower amount, possibly 2.45 mills.
“We believe that allows us to be fiscally responsible” and continue to provide quality services, Baer said to the commissioners.
The Wood Lane board will discuss the millage at its June 21 meeting, then come back to the county commissioners to get their blessing for the ballot.
“Your services certainly do make a difference to families in Wood County,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “We hear that over and over.”
As of earlier this year, Wood Lane was serving 1,007 people. Broken down into age groups, those served are: 114 age 0-2; 95 age 3-5; 316 age 6-22; 171 age 22-30; 124 age 31-40; 74 age 41-50; 86 age 51-64; 27 age 65 and older.
Baer explained that Wood Lane has seen “significant growth” in those being served, especially among the very young.
“We start at birth with early intervention services,” he said.
More people needing services means more staff to serve them.
“We’ve had pretty significant growth in the overall level of staff,” Baer said.
More early intervention is needed for children with autism, and for children affected by the opioid crisis, he added.
As the children age, Wood Lane School gets involved for youth up to the age of 22.
“Anyone who runs a school for people who have significant developmental disabilities has additional costs,” Baer explained.
But Wood Lane has no intention of not offering school services. Without them, children would be placed back in their home schools – which would just shift the costs to those districts. Or they would be cared for at home, where little socialization is offered.
“We just can’t let that happen,” he said.
Wood Lane School does have extra costs due to its student population, Baer said. For example, during a recent performance of the “Princess and the Pea” opera for students, three individuals had significant seizures within an hour. Adequate staff with proper skills must be available.
The agency also offers Family Support Services such as respite care, help with home modifications, and special diet assistance.
“It’s a bit of a lifeline between the county board and those who receive services,” Baer said.
Requests for those services are also growing.
The agency provides homemaker care, transportation to work and medical services, plus vocational services.
One of the big challenges is to find safe, affordable and accessible housing for their consumers.
“We continue to be overwhelmed by housing needs,” Baer said.
One of the newest specialized programs for Wood Lane was the opening of a home for children with developmental disabilities. Baer said he is very proud of that program that kept children from having to move to other counties.
“We were able to intervene in a situation where people were in desperate need of residential services.”
Baer explained that the board works hard to bring in matching funds for services provided.
“We work diligently to draw down housing dollars from the outside.”
“We’re part of the economic engine of Wood County,” he said.
Wood Lane is also working on its new Horizons Program, which provides housing to people facing unforeseen crises, such as breaking a leg or becoming homeless.
Baer warned the commissioners that the board is also staring at a long list of capital projects. The board has been “extremely conservative” and is now facing its day of reckoning.
“These are the list of things on our to-do list,” he said, showing the commissioners the number of repairs to be addressed.