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Published: Saturday, 7/29/2006

A welcome merger

MERGER of Lucas County's mental health and alcohol and drug addiction agencies is a welcome - and overdue - step toward unifying the administration of public services on these two important fronts.

The consolidation, approved July 11 by county commissioners, will create a single 18-member Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, saving an estimated $270,000 a year in administrative costs.

That's good for taxpayers, and the action should ensure better funding and improved services for county residents who need help with mental illness, chemical dependency, or some combination of these debilitating social problems.

In addition to efficiencies of leadership and personnel - one board and one executive director instead of two of each - the merger is a recognition that people with such problems cannot be conveniently categorized. In fiscal 2005, for example, the agencies had more than 3,200 individuals who sought aid from both.

The consolidation also should ameliorate, we hope, the difficulty the alcohol and drug addiction services board met in getting local funding for its work. The mental health board, with a $45 million budget, has been consistently supported by taxpayers, while ADAS, with a $10 million budget, lost tax levy proposals at the polls in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

As we have noted before, the public has been leery of approving additional taxes for treatment of drug and alcohol problems, apparently preferring to believe that chemical dependency is something individuals inflict on themselves.

While that view is certainly debatable, it does not change the fact that these are societal problems that have to be dealt with and paid for one way or another, and a unified approach to acquiring federal, state, and local funding to pay for services should be the most effective strategy.

Wisely, officials indicate they won't seek another levy until 2007. That should give the consolidated agency time to show how it can make the best use of its resources.

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