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Contemplating mental health levy

Clinton Herald - 12/5/2017

Dec. 05--CLINTON -- Clinton County officials are continuing to contemplate where to set the county's mental health levy for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Clinton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard a proposal from Board Chairman Shawn Hamerlinck, Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker and Clinton County Budget Director Lynn Kirchhoff on how to deal with a $2.1 million overrun on the new Clinton County Law Center project.

The proposal included a recommendation to lower the mental health levy to $15.39 per capita. The county levy for fiscal year 2018 was set at the maximum of $30.78 per capita. The county currently has $2.66 million in the fund of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health Region, which is composed of Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, Muscatine and Scott counties, and $808,582 in the Clinton County mental health fund. Nearly 27 percent of the region's mental health account is Clinton County money.

Van Lancker said the reduction to $15.39 per capita should not have too big of a negative impact of the plan presented to the region earlier this month. He stated the change in the levy would help decrease the fund balance even more, which is mandated under Senate File 504.

"This will drop us considerably under what they suggested we drop to," Van Lancker said. "This will drop us even further on that tax levy. Part of their plan was they were going out and do a bunch of one-time kind of capital spending to take down the fund balance. So we just want to let them know how much we plan on taking out of that fund balance too so they don't commit too much."

Supervisor Dan Srp said he did not have a problem with contributing to regional investment in capital funds but expressed concern the contribution to the capital effort would not be proportionally equal.

"We are weighted so much more heavily in that contribution to the region," Srp said. "So really if we're going to be in the interest of the Clinton County taxpayers and keeping use of our dollars here and for our residents and for our needs and for our portion of the region and not somebody else's, we really need to draw heavier than maybe some of the others."

Van Lancker stated he was "not really proposing this" but the county could elect to lower the levy even further. The county has the option to cut the levy more than the 32 cents per capita and move the funding over to the general fund, which would raise more money to cover the overrun in the law center project for one year without raising the total county levy. He also stated county officials must consider the effect on the region on cutting the levy further in order to get county funds back.

"We've been demonstrating that for the past two years and then some," Srp said. "We've been taking that philosophical approach to this decision with regards to mental health funding in both of our last budget sessions while actively asking the other counties involved to give the same consideration and they haven't. And I'm still hearing this year they're not going to either. And so if they're refusing to take that team approach I don't think it's fair of them to expect us to."

Srp also cited concern with the region's plan to get to 20 percent fund balance as required by Senate File 504, stating Clinton County will still be contributing more heavily proportionally than other counties in the regions. He said they have been experiencing inequitable situations which he says the region is proposing will continue for another couple years.

"I don't want to see that inequity continue," Srp said. "I want to slam it straight to where we're equal contributors and fair contributors. We're pulling our weight, we're doing the best we can as a region and if the region wants to make the decision to take a more aggressive approach and spend more money and do other things then we should be asked to contribute to that equitably. And I don't think that's been happening. And it hasn't."

Srp voiced support for being "more aggressive" than the proposed 32 cent per capita reduction. He stated stated the county can draw off the fund balance and assist the region of meeting its goal of getting to 20 percent, although it would cause an alteration of the proposed plan.

"Or it would require Scott County to contribute in a greater proportion to cover their share of that capital investment that's being proposed," Srp said. "Because right now they achieve it by using part of what we historically contributed. And that's the practice I feel like I want to stop."

Van Lancker stated the $2.6 million from Clinton County in the Eastern Iowa Mental Health region is the region's issue and the county does not need to have worries about the $2.6 million. He stated what the county can control is the $808,000 in the county mental health fund.

"I don't think there's any obligation for you to recoup that (the $2.6 million)," Van Lancker said. "There's a philosophical argument why you may want to recoup that and that's my point is how much of that do you want to recoup. What's the balance between being a region and being a county? That's where that discussion comes in."

Hamerlinck stated the proposal was made at $15.39 per capita to avoid coming out and doing a levy of $0 and taking $1.8 million out of the fund right away. He stated the proposed "stair step approach" avoids the possible hard and fast shifting of the two funds.

Van Lancker stated he believes even though Scott County has the largest population among the five counties in the region, Clinton County is a leader among the counties in the region.

"I know Scott County's the biggest county," Van Lancker said. "But Clinton County, I think, is if not the leader in this region it's vice leader. Because everyone is waiting for us and looking at what we're doing."

A decision on the mental health levy for fiscal year 2019 will be made at a future board meeting.

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(c)2017 the Clinton Herald (Clinton, Iowa)

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