By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY — Having been on the job as part of the county’s Domestic Relations department for more than 38 years, Rand Nikoloff received the state’s highest award for his work involving the collection of child support.
Nikoloff, 60, of Grove City, credits his staff of 27, along with cooperative efforts on a state and federal level, for collections that top any in the country. Mercer County Domestic Relations collects 83.5 percent of all court-ordered support and 82 percent of all past due support, he said, figures that exceed the federal standard of 80 percent and are far above the 70 percent collection rate of other states.
“Most people are unfamiliar with that. They don’t realize that Pennsylvania is so far ahead of the game,” he said.
The local domestic relations office in Mercer collected more than $14.2 million in 2012, he said.
He has been the director of the agency since 1993. He previously had a 15-year career with the county’s Juvenile Probation Office. Elected to the Domestic Relations Board of Directors in 1994, Nikoloff has served on a number of committees, including the Domestic Relations Association of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System.
While chairing the legislative committee he testified before the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee and was integral in forming an intergovernmental agreement between the state Department of Public Welfare, the Domestic Relations agency, the Court of Common Pleas and the county commissioners.
“That was kind of a big deal, because it’s a binding contract that affects our funding and the business practices we maintain. We renew that every five years and it allows our workers on a local level to have some input into how their jobs are done. While our goals are the same, the state is less concerned with how it gets done, just so it gets done,” he said.
Mercer County’s success in collections is shared by nearly all 67 Pennsylvania counties, he said, because local and state leaders continually revamp laws and collections practices. Additionally he said, the domestic relations staff has the opportunity to be involved with the Pennsylvania Child Enforcement Advisory Committee that meets five times a year, asking workers for input about how best to do their job.
He also said the caseworkers are also extensively trained, which helps account for the high collection rates.
Aiming to be as customer-friendly as possible, Nikoloff said the office is open every day and customers on both sides of the collection order are welcome at any time.
Improvements to the office’s security system allows him peace of mind that visitors are not armed. “Thanks to forward thinking on the part of our county officials, the improvements were not done out of necessity,” he said.
He said in all the years he has been on the job, he can count the number of “incidents” on one hand. “And I think that speaks well of our staff that they can answer questions and handle things,” he said.
Nikoloff was honored at the annual Domestic Relations Association of Pennsylvania conference in Harrisburg last month, receiving the Robert S. Stewart award for “achievements that have won the respect of child support workers throughout Pennsylvania.”
He is a 1975 graduate of Grove City College with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and he earned a Master’s degree in the Administration of Justice from Shippensburg University in 1984.
He and his wife, Allyson, have a son, Michael, who lives in Carlisle, Pa.