Counties brace for big child welfare bill

CARSON CITY -- Officials in small Nevada counties are nervous about an onslaught of child welfare services the state is pushing onto their plates.

A state Senate budget committee on Wednesday vetted bills implementing Gov. Brian Sandoval's plan to balance the state budget by sending counties more of the tab for youth parole and child protective services, and rework programs for abused and neglected children. Law­makers did not vote on the measures.

"All of a sudden, within a few months, we have a tsunami of services," said Mary Walker, representing Carson City and Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties. "We don't want to harm the services. We don't have the skill or expertise to take things on."

Rural counties asked for more time to assume the new responsibilities, and larger counties asked for the leeway to audit the programs to look for opportunities to save money.

One proposal includes billing counties for child protective services. Clark and Washoe counties already pay for those services, but the 15 others will now pitch in for nearly $5 million over the next two years. The governor recently recommended adding the rural program back to the state's tab, but a legislative committee put the add-back money toward other services.

Another proposal divides half of the $10.8 million cost for youth parole services among all counties.

The third and largest change is a plan to base $57 million in child welfare funding, which funds foster care and adoption assistance programs, partially on county agencies' performance. Core funding for the two largest counties would be set at $50 million, and $7 million converted to an "incentive payment" that counties would receive only if certain goals are met.

Only Clark and Washoe counties would participate in the performance pay program, while rural counties would remain under the state's umbrella and wouldn't have to meet performance quotas to get full funding.

That plan didn't sit well with some legislators.

"We need to be fair and equitable, not provide subsidies to certain counties," said state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. "All local governments are struggling to provide."

An amendment to the bill means counties will get full funding, including the incentive payment, for the next two years before their revenue stream starts depending on their performance.