County may pull out of Fellman Center

Study urged on merging operations
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams Shawano County spends about $68,000 a year to lease space inside the privately-owned Fellman Center, 607 E. Elizabeth St., Shawano.

Shawano County is considering moving out of the Fellman Center and consolidating human services operations in an expanded and remodeled Lakeland Center.

The county’s human services board voted Tuesday to recommend hiring a consultant to study space needs for the department that serves senior citizens, people with disabilities, behavioral health clients and others.

No estimates have been presented yet on how much it might cost to expand or remodel the county-owned Lakeland Center, 504 Lakeland Road, Shawano.

County officials, however, said consolidating human services under one roof could boost efficiency and end up costing less. The county currently pays about $83,000 a year to lease space inside the privately-owned Fellman Center, 607 E. Elizabeth St., Shawano.

“We could save the taxpayers a lot of money,” said Supervisor Richard Ferfecki, chairman of the human services board.

Board members voted unanimously to recommend the consultant study as the county works to assemble its 2018 budget. The County Board generally approves a yearly spending plan in October.

The county budget currently is about $51 million, which includes $9.5 million for human services.

The Fellman Center is owned by a private nonprofit group known as Shawano County Job Center Inc., headed by Mike Schuler.

Human Services Director Richard Kane notified county leaders in his 2016 year-end report that he wanted to explore the possibility of moving out of the Fellman Center and consolidating in the Lakeland Center. At the time, Kane wrote that the move could involve expansion of the Lakeland Center and remodeling for Lakeland Industries, an on-site county jobs program for people with disabilities.

On Tuesday, Kane urged human services board members to move ahead with recommending a study as part of the county’s budget-making process.

“If we’re serious about doing it, the time is right,” he said.

The human services department employs more than 100 people to provide such services as meals and transportation for senior citizens, emergency care for recovering drug addicts and others with mental health issues, case management for children with disabilities, home heating assistance for struggling families, and protective services for children at risk of abuse or neglect.

The department was created two years ago when Shawano County merged its social services and community programs departments.

Supervisor Bonnie Olson, another member of the human services board, said Tuesday she questions whether the county could find a better deal than renting facilities at the Fellman Center. In contrast, she said, consolidating at the Lakeland Center could involve other expenses, such as added parking for employees.

Olson agreed that a study is warranted, although she noted that it might not necessarily support the consolidation move.

“Those numbers would be interesting — a selling point or not a selling point,” she said.