Government

Mental health region says no to funding Linn, Johnson mental health centers - for now

East Central mental health board to hold strategic planning in February to set funding priorities

Linn County Public Health in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Linn County Public Health in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A move to include $1.8 million into the regional mental health budget to fund operational costs for access centers failed Friday, casting uncertainty on Linn and Johnson counties access centers that are anticipated to open in 2020.

Linn County needs more than $1.4 million to operate a mental health crisis center they had expected to open in July.

Linn County Supervisors set aside $3.5 million for the access center in February 2018. The money was to fund renovation of an existing space, the first year of operations and some administrative costs.

The rest was expected to be funded by the East Central Region Mental Health and Disability Services — a district that includes Linn, Johnson and seven other counties.

At a board meeting Friday morning, Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers called a proposal to budget $150,000 a month — for $1.8 million annually — from the East Central mental health region for operational costs of access centers an “equitable, collaboration and fair solution and proposal.”

Linn County would use the funds when its access center opens in July. The money then would be split 50-50 with Johnson County when its access center opens in October.

“That gives us a clear runway for Linn County to get operational, and gives this board the opportunity to decide how we want to fund ongoing costs,” Rogers said.

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There is an estimated $1.4 million gap in operational funding once the access center is open due to expected delays in Iowa Medicaid reimbursements.

Rogers and Johnson County Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass, board members of the East Central mental health region, were the only two out of 10 board members to vote in favor of the proposal.

Ann McDonough, a Dubuque County supervisor, said the discussion to fund access centers was “premature,” and she asked to see a business plan before allocating regional dollars to the centers.

Wayne Manternach, Jones County supervisor, said the board can “conceptually support” access centers, but until they go through strategic planning they cannot have a discussion about how much funding they are able to allocate for the centers.

While regions are not legally required to fund access centers, they are required by the state to provide access to mental health services, said Mae Hingtgen, East Central Region chief executive officer,

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the region to consider supporting access centers,” Hingtgen said. “I think there needs to be a lot of structure. If we move forward as a region and say we need to (financially) support access centers, there needs to be a formula and criteria for how an access center becomes eligible for regional funding.”

One option to fund access centers is to increase the levy rate counties pay to the region, a decision that would need to be made by April 1, Hingtgen said. The current levy rate is almost 32 cents.

Projections of the region’s budget will be presented to the board Jan. 23.

Hingtgen said the board will have a “very in-depth discussion” during a strategic planning session in February, identifying four to five goals around which funding will be prioritized.

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Linn County Finance Director Dawn Jindrich said that waiting for the region to set their budget and priorities “will not work for Linn County,” that it has to finalize a budget by Feb. 7.

Linn County supervisors have to make decisions on the access center by Jan. 20, including whether to increase the levy rate an additional 20 cents per $1,000 in assessed taxable property value to fund operational costs of the center.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors will meet 10 a.m. Monday to discuss a possible local tax increase of an additional 20 cents per $1,000 in assessed taxable property value to fund operational costs of the access center, and act on a $1.7 million contract with Garling Construction to renovate the former public health building.

Linn County is at a “decision point,” Rogers said.

“We have a bid we cannot honor,” Rogers said. “I’m not going to start construction on a building when there is ‘conceptual’ support for dollars.”

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

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