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Reluctant Riverton council OKs cash infusion for detox center

Jun 24, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Riverton City Council members got into a heated debate Tuesday when discussing whether to give money to the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center so it can meet payroll.

At a work session May 23, council members had voted to award $22,000 to the center, providing that the money be used solely for the hiring of a medical director.

Crisis center director Lisa Amos wrote a letter to council members saying she understood the stipulations but thought there was some misunderstanding about the need for a medical director.

"The Alcohol Crisis Center has been operating without a medical director for over a year now," Amos said. "As a social detoxification program, we see no significant benefit to hiring a medical director."

Amos said in the letter that the center has continued to use the same medical protocol set up by the former medical director to determine when to refer a client to the emergency room.

"There has been essentially no difference in the ratio of referrals to and from the emergency room since operating without a medical director," Amos said. "In addition, all crisis center staff are non-medical personnel other than myself. I am a registered nurse and oversee the protocols at the crisis center."

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen said she has spent a lot of time volunteering at the crisis center and has learned a lot from taking the time to see firsthand how the center is run.

"I think it is important we take the $22,000, and allow Amos to have it used as payroll for her staff," Christensen said.

Christensen said Amos is struggling to find money for payroll and the staff devote a lot of time to the center with little reward.

"I think we all need to go down and work an eight- to 12-hour shift," Christensen said. "There is a way for Fremont County to take care of Fremont County's problems."

Mayor Ron Warpness said he shared Christensen's concerns and said the center is going through a dark time.

Christensen said everyone has someone supportive, whether it be a family member or a good friend.

"Some of our citizens have no support," Christensen said. "There is expertise in this county to help take care of people. Amos and her staff, along with the Riverton Police Department, are sometimes the only support some of these people have."

Councilman Richard Gard said the problems at the crisis center have exploded.

"It is time to put your business hat on," Gard said. "I think Christensen's statement does not fall on deaf ears, but my big fear is when do we stop funding payroll? This is not the first time the center has come to us and asked the city to help give money for payroll."

Gard equated the constant need for payroll money to an addiction.

"Funding more money does not help management skills," Gard said. "It is very much like the addicts we are working with, but a different addiction."

Councilman Eric Heiser said that when someone goes to a bank and starts requesting money, the bank typically wants to know what is going on.

"We don't know what is going on at the crisis center," Heiser said. "I have never seen their books. If the crisis center has asked for advances in the past year, and we are going to be good stewards of the taxpayer's money, I kind of feel we need to know what is going on."

Heiser said it does not add up how the center had $500,000 in the bank a few years ago and is now asking for the city to help meet payroll.

"We help meet payroll this time, but what happens next time?" Heiser said. "That is something that concerns me.

"People have to be paid, but from a business perspective, if you are at the point of not being able to pay your employees, there is a lot going wrong."

Warpness said the crisis center did have audits and said everyone needed to be careful when talking about the mismanagement of funds.

"I think the center has done a remarkable job with things they have done in the city," Warpness said.

Gard said if there is no money to pay employees then the top of management should go without pay.

"You don't save a facility by making payroll," Gard said. "I see a trend. We need to figure out how much the center needs, because they are just going to be short again."

Councilman Lars Baker said he thought there was $32,000 sitting in a fund as cash carryover until next year's budget.

"We could reduce what we were going to give the crisis center in 2012 and spend money that is in the current budget," Baker said.

City administrator Steven Weaver said it would work to give the center an advance of $22,000 for the current fiscal year to help them meet payroll and reduce the allotted funds by $22,000 for the 2013 fiscal year.

Gard said the crisis center would have to come to a point where it can live inside its budget.

Council members voted to advance the crisis center $22,000 for payroll with the stipulation that $22,000 would be deducted from the funds for the 2013 fiscal year.

Gard was the only council member who voted in opposition to the motion.