Mental health's black ink means less pocket change?
By STEPH TAHTINEN
Mt. Pleasant News
Henry County’s mental health budget for fiscal year 2014 looks good. So good, that the county could lower the mental health tax levy for a year.
“It’s back to you, as stewards of tax dollars, what do you want to do?” CPC (central point of coordination) Sarah Kaufman told the supervisors.
According to the budget presented to the board of supervisors by Kaufman on Thursday morning, on June 30, Henry County will have an ending fund balance of $575,000 for fiscal year 2013.
And, Kaufman noted, she did not even touch that balance when building her fiscal year 2014 budget.
Kaufman is anticipating revenues of $959,000 for fiscal year 2014. Of this, $846,000 will be raised from property taxes in the county.
Total expenditures for fiscal year 2014 are listed at $833,000, which is significantly lower than the $1,123,817 budgeted for fiscal year 2013.
Kaufman credited this decrease in part to moving more people to Medicaid funding that will be paid by the state.
“It made our lives financially much better,” said Kaufman.
Another contributor was the closing of the residential care facility.
Kaufman noted that with the over half a million remaining in the ending fund balance from fiscal year 2013 and the numbers budgeted for fiscal year 2014, Henry County could potentially have an ending fund balance of around $800,000 come June 30, 2014.
With this amount of money available to the county in the upcoming fiscal year, the county could lower the mental health tax levy for fiscal year 2014.
However, if the supervisors choose to lower the tax levy, it would most likely need to be increased again for fiscal year 2015.
“Understand that we may go back up to that in (fiscal year) 15 when we’re in a region and we may need that money,” said Kaufman.
“If you do consider lowering it (tax levy), make sure you make it clear to people this will be a one time thing,” commented County Auditor Shelly Barber.
Barber said that residents may not see it as a one-year property tax relief but instead complain when the levy is raised again for fiscal year 2014-2015.
Or, Barber pointed out, the state could decide to lock Henry County at the lower levy, preventing them from raising it to collect more taxes when they need the extra money.
“That’s the only part that bothers me there,” said Barber.
“Today I’m just for leaving it alone … I may change my mind,” said Supervisor Chairman Gary See. However, he said he wasn’t worried about complaints over the levy being raised again in a year’s time.
“I’m more concerned with the freeze that may occur,” he said, echoing Barber’s concern.
If the supervisors choose to leave the tax levy at its current rate, they would not possibly be stuck with a too-low levy for fiscal year 2015. However, it was noted, if the fund balance becomes too large the state may not give the county as much funding in the future.
Kaufman did note that the ending fund balance for fiscal year 2014 will be used as start-up cash for the region. Kaufman said she did not know yet what the start-up costs would be, but it would be a per-capita amount.
Under mental health redesign in the state of Iowa, Henry County is forming a region with Keokuk, Washington, Van Buren, Lee, Des Moines and Louisa counties to form a seven-county region. Redesign expects the region to be functioning by July 1, 2014.
For now, the counties are still figuring out how it will operate and what services will be funded. There is a list of core services that all counties must provide, but there are also “core plus” services that can be provided if the region has the funding to do so.
All counties within the region must provide the same set of services, which is not currently the case with the region Henry County is forming.
For instance, Henry County is one of four counties in the region that currently fund developmental delay; three do not.
Developmental delay is not covered under the core services, and Kaufman noted that due to financial concerns Des Moines and Lee counties are cutting back to only funding core services under redesign.
“They (Lee County) don’t have the money to do anything else,” said Kaufman. “They’re going to make cuts.”
In order to ease the transition into not funding developmental delay, Kaufman noted that the two people currently being funded in Henry County will be funded for at least one more year.
“It’s not appropriate to tell people we’re not going to fund you anymore because the law has changed when we can afford it,” said Kaufman.
After a year, the situation will be evaluated to see if funding can be continued.
In the meantime, come July 1, 2013, new applicants will not be approved for developmental delay funding.
“If a new DD would apply for it, we’re not going to fund because we’ve gone to the new core,” said Kaufman. “I don’t think it’s right to bring someone in when you can’t sustain it.”
Another concern facing the region is that legal settlement has gone away. Previously, if a new client moves to a county, that person is still funded by their previous county of residence. However, with redesign the county where they currently reside will fund all clients.
Kaufman noted that this will make it easier as they do not need to look into where they used to live. However, this also means that there could be many new clients that become Henry County’s responsibility.