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AUBURN — The Cayuga County Legislature's Ways and Means Committee had its first of several workshops to develop the 2019 county budget, focusing on departments related to finance, health and public safety.

The committee received reports from the departments under its purview as well as those under the Health and Human Services Committee and the Judicial and Public Safety Committee.

Significant points of discussion included an increase in state aid for indigent legal services, the proposed use of a new software service for social workers and the hiring of additional social service case workers.

As a result of a new law passed in the wake of a lawsuit settlement against New York for failing to provide adequate funding for indigent legal defense, the state will provide Cayuga County with a significant increase in funding.

According to the review documents provided to the legislators by County Administrator J. Justin Woods, the additional funding represents a $180,000 savings between the Youth Bureau and Assigned Counsel offices.

As part of the state's "massive, multi-year investment," Woods said, the county could also likely expect similar reimbursements for the program in subsequent years.

In the Department of Social Services, Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari requested additional case worker and senior caseworker positions as part of a revamped approach to juvenile justice prompted by the state's Raise the Age law.

While the revenue generated by the positions would significantly help offset the costs, it would also help the county prepare for subsequent changes coming from Raise the Age, as well as better align with the intent of the law, to "do juvenile justice in a better way," as Woods said.

In addition to furthering the ultimate goal of keeping youthful offenders out of the criminal justice system and set back on the right path, the additional caseworkers would help the county save potentially millions, Bizzari said, over the next decade.

The state plans to stop funding for placements for youths classified as a Person In Need of Supervision (PINS), so pivoting the county towards a system where such placements are avoided would provide significant savings.

Government Operations Committee Chair Ryan Foley, D-Auburn, said he hoped the kind of detail Bizzari and Woods provided for the proposal would be similar for the rest of the budget process, saying it was the kind of information the Legislature needs to make the right decisions.

"That's the kind of explanation we're looking for," Foley said.

Bizzari also requested the purchase of a new software system for the services unit, which the Legislature decided against last year.

The Northwoods software would allow case workers to access all the necessary documentation to do their work in the field, such as release forms, court orders, patient histories, and more.

Currently, workers can often be on a case in the south of the county late at the evening when they're required to drive back to and from Auburn to retrieve documentation.

After reimbursements from the state, the software would have a cost to the county of $70,000 for a one-time purchase fee plus an annual $45,000 after reimbursements for licensing and maintenance.

Bizzari said his department had been studying the software, which is now used by multiple other counties, for four years, and studies showed the software could increase efficiency enough to save an entire day of work for the caseworkers.

"I think it's a tool that's really effective in the field," Bizzari said.

Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, asked if it would be possible and more cost effective for a similar system to be built in house. Bizzari, as well as Chief Information Officer Steve Tobin, said would not be realistic with the county's manpower and would be even more expensive.

The next workshop meeting for the Ways and Means Committee is scheduled for Thursday Nov. 8.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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