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State dollars could help county's mental health services

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Plymouth County Supervisors signed an application Tuesday to qualify the county for transition dollars to help provide mental health services.

The application is necessary for the county to be considered to receive a share of $20 million earmarked by the Iowa Legislature for that purpose.

Those dollars are intended to help provide mental health services to county-funded individuals until a statewide mental health system is put in place.

Sharon Nieman, central point of coordination and general relief director for the county, reminded the supervisors the $20 million has yet to be allocated by the Legislature.

"They have to reconvene in January and decide if that money is going to be legislatively appropriated to mental health services," Nieman said at the meeting Tuesday.

She explained that the application signed by the supervisors Tuesday must be submitted to Chuck Palmer, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, by Nov. 1.

Nieman said the application does not mean the county will receive a specified amount of dollars but that it is qualified to do so.

She was directed by the state to use historical and hypothetical figures to project dollars the county will need for mental health services from fiscal year 2012-13 through 2014-15, Nieman said.

"What they wanted us to do is assume that $47.28 levy was going to be passed," she explained. "They want you go project out your cost and assume you got that difference."

Nieman referred to a statewide tax levy that has been proposed by the Legislature as part of reforming and regionalizing the state's mental health system.

Under the proposal all 99 Iowa counties would use a $47.28 tax levy as opposed to what they currently have, which would be beneficial for Plymouth County, Nieman said.

"For me that's about $860,000 plus our $363,771 that we get for local taxes," she said. "That's my best guess of what could happen."

However, that is contingent upon the Legislature appropriating dollars for the $47.28 tax levy, Nieman noted.

"The levy has to go through or we're not going to survive," she said.

This year the county received only $363,771 -- the dollars collected through its local tax levy for mental health services, Nieman said.

"All additional dollars provided by the state in past fiscal years were withheld from the counties starting July 1, 2012 in order for the state to pay the Medicaid dollars that they assumed responsibility for July 1, 2012," she said.

Nieman estimated Plymouth County lost roughly $941,706 when the state dollars were withheld.

"That's why we had to cut services at Life Skills (Training Center) and put a waiting list in place for outpatient services at the mental health centers," she said.

Nieman added that it wasn't only Plymouth County that lost the state dollars.

"That number varies from county to county," she said.

Because of that cut, the Legislature earmarked $20 million that counties can potentially apply for to help them until the proposed statewide levy is implemented.

Supervisor Don Kass asked Nieman if she thought the $20 million would be enough to aid all 99 Iowa counties.

"It's not by any means," Nieman said.

State officials have said if the $20 million is appropriated, they will seek input from the counties as to what their financial needs are for mental health services, Nieman said.

"The counties aren't optimistic about receiving the money," she said. "We won't know anything until after they (legislators) go back into session."



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