Madison County home heating proposition returns to finance committee

The Madison County ad hoc energy committee appointed by Board of Supervisor Chairman John M. Becker returned a recommendation that the county's committees re-examine a proposed local heating program.

The program would help the county's neediest residents, said Supervisor James Goldstein (D,C,I -- Lebanon) at several meetings late this summer.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Fitzgerald provided members of the Social and Mental Health Services Committee a program update at their Sept. 22 meeting in response to a request from Supervisor John Salka (R,C,I -- Brookfield).

"The [Home Energy Assistance Program] season is not open yet, but previous clients were sent applications during the past week to 10 days," Fitzgerald said.

HEAP season opens Nov. 3, Fitzgerald said.

"HEAP is changing almost daily," Fitzgerald said of the vacillating infusion of federal money and the state tinkering with benefit amounts and income eligibility numbers.

"There will be another meeting Oct. 2, so want to hold off until then to send something out to you guys," Fitzgerald said.

In reintroducing the local energy fund proposal, Fitzgerald said he is taking the $25,000 total monies earmarked for the program entirely from the 2008 budget.

"We'll encumber any unexpended money in 2009," Fitzgerald said.

According to Fitzgerald, time is of the essence, and he hopes having a formalized heating program will make delivery of services to those in need much more efficient.

"We hope by the time they get home from our office, the fuel dealer is in the driveway," Fitzgerald said. "They've probably bounced from 10 to 15 different people and agencies before getting to us. When they finally do get to this point, it's got to be quick."

The matter will return to the county's Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which meets Friday morning at 9 a.m.

In other business

Fitzgerald said his department has under-spent in its juvenile delinquent/persons in need of supervision budget lines, but has been over-expending in traditional foster care homes.

He said the reason for the change is that his department is dealing with younger children and the county is not sending them away.

"The reason we're not sending them away is because these are not cases that are going to court," Fitzgerald said. "There have been substantial increases in reports for child protective services."

He said there's been no local increase in failure to thrive cases.

"We've got a lot of housing issues and substance abuse issues, and those would probably be the two biggest concerns leading to foster care placements," Fitzgerald said.

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