Social services outlay to rise 17% in town
With scarce funding from the state, social service groups in Teton County have come to rely heavily on local sources. It shows in the town’s budget for next year.
Elected officials plan to boost financial assistance for social services by 17% next year as a state budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars takes its toll on organizations like the Teton Literacy Center, Senior Center of Jackson Hole and Community Safety Network.
“I think that’s definitely putting their actions behind their words,” said Sarah Cavallaro, director of Teton Youth and Family Services.
Without hesitation the councilors — minus Mayor Pete Muldoon, who was absent — agreed Monday to provide whatever the social service organizations asked for, regardless of allocations in previous years.
“We can go line by line,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said, looking at a list of the groups. “But I’m interested in funding all of them at their full requests.”
“So am I,” the other three agreed, practically in unison.
That funding amounts to an extra $120,000 over last fiscal year, for a total of about $822,000. It’s the largest increase in social service spending from the town since fiscal year 2018, when it grew by about the same amount.
The Human Services Council, a collection of 10 social service providers, has been coping with several million dollars in cuts in recent years by the state government, its largest funding source.
“We’re always trying to do more with less,” said Sharel Lund, director of One22. “You won’t see fancy delivery of social services. … So really when we say we need some more help, we need some more help.”
Some organizations did ask for more help from the town this year, including One22, which requested the largest increase at $27,500.
Becky Zaist, director of the Senior Center, said the full funding of its request for an additional $7,000 is “great news.” The center served 16% more seniors last year, she said, and “this will help us keep up with rising demand,” especially for in-home services.
Teton Youth and Family Services asked for an increase of $15,000, which Cavallaro said would go toward expanding the Juvenile Diversion Program, designed to keep children out of the court system and reduce recidivism. The sole officer in the program was maxed out with 30 children last year, and the extra funding will help to hire a second.
Historically, Cavallaro said, the state funded 75%-80% of her organization’s budget. It’s now down to 35%-40%. She lauded local government for picking up the slack.
“I think it’s often an under-represented group of services,” Cavallaro said. “It’s easy to see pathways, it’s easy to see the Rec Center. It’s hard to see the needs of some of our most vulnerable populations.”
Besides direct investment, elected officials have taken other steps to support social services. Earlier this year the Teton County Board of County Commissioners hired a consultant to study how officials can prioritize social services based on community needs and to develop a human services plan based on that study.
“It is very challenging for us to judge what we think might be important versus what [social service groups] are saying is important,” Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said. “That’s been a concern for several years.”
The town and Human Services Council members are also contributing money to the $82,000 contract.
“It will create a vision of where we want to go as a community,” Cavallaro said. “Not just put Band-Aids on things but actually fix the system.”
Though the councilors unanimously supported funding the social service groups’ full requests, they didn’t take an official vote. They will meet at least two more times before June 17, when they have to finalize the budget. The next meeting is scheduled for June 3.