Chippewa County plans to increase staffing to address meth epidemic

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CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) -- Methamphetamine continues to be an issue in many communities, including the Chippewa Valley. In an effort to address the issue, officials in one local county are looking to grow its staff.

Chippewa County Administrator Randy Scholz says Meth is the number one problem in the county, resulting in the need for more resources.

Scholz says meth is an issue trickling down to multiple departments Ten new positions will be added to county next year, seven of which will directly address the meth epidemic. "We have six in our Department of Human Services division, then we will be adding a sheriff’s patrol officer,” said Scholz.

Scholz says the idea was sparked after meeting with department heads. He says about 15 of them highlighted meth as being a problem needing more attention. The county has a three step approach to addressing the epidemic. "The first one was dealing with the 2019 budget, then we're looking at a 5 year plan to deal with it,” said Scholz.

He says the third focus is educating legislators. "A lot of people in the Madison area deal with opioids and we deal with that but just not to the extent that we deal with meth so we really have been trying to get the word out that meth is a big problem also," he said.

The meth issue is also impacting law enforcement. Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk says the department handles meth related cases on a daily basis. "Right now meth is the most available drug, the cheapest drug out there and unfortunately it's the most addictive drug," said Kowalczyk.

With meth resulting in children being taken out of their homes, the Department of Human Services is seeing a larger case load. "At the current time with the case load numbers for our workers…we're looking at roughly 24 and more kids on each case load,” said Tim Easker, Interim Director for the Department of Human Services.

Two new workers for child protection services will be hired along with a staffer for a drug treatment program. Easker says those positons won’t cost the county a cent. “Some of the positions are paid for by Medicare or Medicaid so we’re utilizing that…some direct tax levy so we had to increase our tax levy,” said Scholz.

10 to 11 families per case worker is what the county is aiming for. “That’s when you can really do the good work because in 2015 we had roughly 24 kids in out of home care. As of yesterday, we had 199 kids in out of home care and we only had one more staff member working on those cases,” he said.

Easker says the goal is to create a safe environment for kids to be reunited or in some instances able to be adopted.

Overall, officials say they want everyone in the community to understand how deep prevention efforts go. “People that this hasn’t hit their families yet or people they know, they really think everyone just needs to be put in jail and that will solve the problem. I think we’ve discovered that overtime, that doesn’t solve the problem…we really need to do some treatment and diversion,” said Scholz.
New staff members will also be added in Planning and Zoning, Land Conservation and Forest Management, and Facilities and Parks Departments.