Cortland County Legislators seek cost breakdown on proposed upgrades

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Cortland County’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee has tabled approval on a $320,000 request for federal funds from the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS), which would go toward improving the way DSS caseworkers access and review casefiles.

In a request presented before the committee by DSS commissioner Kristen Monroe, $284,000 would go toward contracting Traverse, a case management service provided by human services tech company Northwoods. The rest of the requested funds would go towards a “professional services” fee. 

The software provides smoother access to digital case records, a way to manage case files digitally, and access on-the-go to approximately 400 state and local forms used by case workers while in the field, according to Monroe. Of the proposed investment, $36,075 would cover the costs of 35 iPads and their respective unlimited data plans for case workers to access the service while in the field. The program would then cost a yearly $100,000 to maintain after the initial investment.

Monroe said Traverse’s management tools can help a caseworker staff at DSS that is overworked. She added that the bulk of the county’s DSS case management is currently hard copy.

“Challenges are coming at a time when our case needs are as high as they have ever been,” she said. “We looked at our 28 caseworkers, and 17 have been with us for one year or more (or roughly 61 percent). Five of them have been with us for five years or longer (roughly 18 percent). Our child protective services caseworkers are looking at 10.5 cases a month, and the state recommended caseload is 7.5 cases per month.”

Monroe noted other counties have used Traverse and experienced success. According to a document submitted to the Cortland County Legislature, Traverse is used by 12 counties in New York, including the surrounding counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Jefferson.

“(Traverse) helps workers manage their caseload and fits in with the younger (generation) who we want to hire,” Monroe said. “They are very tech savvy, they want to use computers, they want to work remotely and never touch paper.”

The shift to Traverse could signify potential savings in paper, administrative costs and overtime.

“Our workers want to spend more time with the people they are serving, and I think they can achieve that (with this program),” Monroe said.

County legislators ultimately tabled any action on the request until January’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting. The legislators as whole noted they would like to see more detailed breakdowns of the savings Traverse could bring to DSS’s operating costs.

County Legislative Chairman Paul Heider (R-LD16) called for further research into what other counties using Traverse are seeing in terms of DSS costs.

“We may consider the $320,000 and the $100,000 for next year’s maintenance, but when the American Rescue Plan funds go away, the county taxpayers are going to be burdened with the new system,” Heider said.