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Tough times ahead for St. Louis County social services

Linda Anderson is not optimistic. The director of social services for St. Louis County is heading into the annual budget process with a realistic outlook. Her department is facing increasing expenses, flat state and federal revenues and a mandate...

Linda Anderson is not optimistic.
The director of social services for St. Louis County is heading into the annual budget process with a realistic outlook.
Her department is facing increasing expenses, flat state and federal revenues and a mandate to hold the line on non-personnel costs.
Tight budgets in the past have meant staff cuts and higher case loads.
To do its job effectively, the department may have to take some unprecedented bold steps.
Thursday, the director shared her vision for social services with members of the Twin Ports Area Nonprofit Coalition. Anderson has held the position a little over five years and was previously the director of a private nonprofit organization.
"This is the most difficult time they've experienced in the life of nonprofits," Anderson said, describing the mood in the industry. And she acknowledged being discouraged going into a new budget year.
"I'm driven by our mission and our vision statement, as are many others," she said. "We're trying to break away from our bureaucratic tendencies and be innovative."
She defined the department's vision as a statement of how social services wants to look in the future. Components include respect for clients, teamwork, innovation, accountability and becoming an effective and trusted partner.
Its mission includes protecting and supporting families, children, adults and the disabled and promoting self-sufficiency.
Shaping this mission is what Anderson sees as a need for the department to evolve and a multi-pronged effort to change is underway.
One administrative priority is to identify the department's "core functions."
"Increasingly we will focus our resources on what we perceive to be core," she said. "Moving resources from non-core to core." It's a move the county commissioners have supported.
"We will be results focused," Anderson said. "Results will guide our decision making. If you can demonstrate results you can get public support."
Staffing is another issue shaping the department's efforts. Anderson said two-thirds of her 350 employees are eligible to retire in the next five to seven years. This will create a need to attract new workers, something that was never a problem in the past.
With the various constraints at work, Anderson said, "We cannot continue doing everything we've always done.
"We are going to have to do something pretty bold in the future if we want to move forward. It has to be different in the future."
"We have to be hopeful," she concluded, "It would be easy to give up."
The county budget process is different this year. Unlike in the past, Anderson and other department heads will not have to make a presentation to the county board. They will present their budgets to County Administrator David Twa, who will then present his budget to the board in late August.
"Our goal is to present a balanced budget to the county administrator," she said. "Keeping the levy flat has been an incredible challenge."
She will present her budget to Twa on July 10.
The coalition represents 85 nonprofit organizations in the Duluth-Superior area. It was founded in 1998 to explore ways that local nonprofits could work together to address common issues and needs. For more information contact coordinator Mary Streufert at 726-4887.

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