The Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is asking county voters to approve a new property tax to pay for growing needs and to offset big losses in federal, state, and local revenue, including dramatic reductions in local property values. Issue 24 on the fall ballot deserves a YES vote.
The proposed 1-mill, 10-year levy would generate about $7.9 million a year, based on current property values. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.63 a year.
Meeting community mental health and substance abuse needs is a wise investment. It is far cheaper than incarceration, police contacts, emergency room visits, and other crisis-related costs associated with untreated mental illness and drug abuse. The board provides a safety net for poor and uninsured people.
If approved, the new levy would bring the board's total tax rate to 2.5 mills, or $76.58 a year. Two separate levies that are scheduled to expire in 2014 and 2018 amount to a total of 1.5 mills.
Requests for board services have grown 11 percent since 2009, while the board has lost 24 percent of its revenues, says executive director Scott Sylak. Rejecting the new levy would force the board to cut $1.57 million in services to some of the community's most vulnerable residents over the next 20 months, he warns. The cutbacks would mean more mentally ill and addicted people who are unable to work or in the county jail, state prisons, local homeless shelters, or hospital emergency rooms.
The board’s current budget is $22 million a year. Across-the-board cuts would affect the 24,000 people the agency serves each year. The board would have to eliminate assistance to mentally ill people with less-severe disorders, and reduce housing and emergency shelter services.
The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board funds 17 nonprofit community treatment providers. It has a record of responsible management, setting aside 97 cents of every dollar for direct services.
To make up for lost revenue, the board has cut administrative staff by 20 percent, competitively bid contracts and evaluated them for cost-effectiveness, and worked with Juvenile Court and other service providers to identify federal grants and revenue sources.
Board programs treat thousands of mentally ill people, including those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. The board runs a 24/7 center for emergency psychiatric services that's open to all people, regardless of income.
The new levy — the first the board has sought in 24 years — would also improve services to children, young adults, and veterans. Rejecting the levy would mean far more untreated mental illness and substance abuse in Lucas County.
That's a price the community cannot afford. Vote YES on Issue 24.