Government

Linn County to increase taxes to pay for substance abuse treatment

$600k needed for substance abuse services at new access center

The former Linn County Public Health complex, at 401 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids, will be home to the first Linn County
The former Linn County Public Health complex, at 401 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids, will be home to the first Linn County Access Center. It is expected to open in July. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CORRECTION: The levy rate for fiscal year 2020 was incorrectly reported. The levy rate for fiscal year 2020 was $5.84, increasing 56 cents per thousand to $6.40 for fiscal year 2021. Access Center funding increases total 10 cents per thousand -- six cents for substance use and four cents for mental health. The levy was also increased for debt service, primarily for the new Public Health and Child & Youth Development Services Building.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors decided this week to increase the county’s tax rate to pay for substance abuse treatment at the new Linn County Access Center.

The levy will increase to $6.40 per $1,000 assessed valuation in fiscal year 2021 — up 56 cents per $1,000 from this fiscal year — to provide around $600,000 for the services.

The access center funding increases total 10 cents per thousand -- six cents for substance abuse treatment and four cents for mental health funding. It also includes a 25 cent increase for debt services, primarily due to the new Harris Building, where Public Health and Child & Youth Services relocated last year.

The access center, to be located in the former Linn County Public Health building at 501 13th St. NW, is expected to open in July and offer a place for law enforcement officers to take people in crisis, rather than to jail or a hospital.

Linn County has provided $3.5 million in startup funding for the access center.

“It is a risk for Linn County to take to create a new service in Iowa, one that is practiced in almost every other state in the nation,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said at a board of meeting last month. “I think it’s a worthy one. ... I think as we endeavor to help improve the human condition, the substance abuse portion has to be a part of it.”

The Area Substance Abuse Council will provide substance abuse counseling at the center.

Jeannette Archer-Simons, the director of ASAC, hopes the program is self-sustaining within three years.

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She said that 3,000 people with substance abuse issues interact with law enforcement officers each year in Linn County.

The Area Substance Abuse Council sees about 3,000 people a year, and “we’ve just begun to scratch the surface” of those who need substance abuse treatment, Archer-Simons said.

“Families are at a loss for how to deal with this,” she said.

Archer-Simons said a steady level of 10 substance abuse clients will be their “break-even” point for inpatient services at the new access center.

Where Medicaid reimbursement falls short, she hopes grants can bridge the funding gap.

Jones County, which was looking to add a substance abuse detox unit to its hospital in Anamosa, determined it was too costly and has spoken to Linn County Access Center leaders about using the services here.

Archer-Simons said there is a conversation about how Jones County can contribute financially.

Providing detox beds at an access center is expected to cost “significantly less” than a detox bed at a hospital, which runs about $2,500 a day, Archer-Simons said.

Linn County Access Center Director Erin Foster said she is “going to be extremely optimistic” and assume that the state will provide funding “at some point.”

“They mandated access centers and, hopefully, the Linn County and Johnson County (access centers) will show them that these are working. They’re saving money,” Foster said.

Unless Medicare reimbursement rates increase or state funding is allotted for mental health and substance abuse treatment, funding for the substance abuse portion of the access center may be left up to the county, she said.

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Three mental health providers — Foundation 2, the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health and the Penn Center — also will provide services at the access center.

The East Central Region for mental health approved increasing the per capita mental health levy from 31 cents from 34 cents, providing $1.2 million in regional funding for the Linn and Johnson mental health access centers.

The Johnson County Access Center is expected to open in December.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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