FINDLAY - While seeming to agree that Blanchard Valley Center will have to ask voters for more tax dollars, Hancock County commissioners delayed a vote yesterday that would put the proposed 2.8-mill levy on the November ballot.
Commission Chairman Steve Oman said he first wants to invite elected state officials, including Gov. Robert Taft, to come to Findlay and explain why they have imposed unfunded mandates and rule changes that have sent the county's Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities into crisis mode.
"We've got several past [MRDD] board members here, and you're in here today not because of the job they've done, but because of the job done 100 miles from here at the capital," he said, adding that state legislators should be held accountable.
The MRDD board wants to get a three-year operating levy on the November ballot that would generate $4.2 million a year to keep Blanchard Valley School and Industries operating.
The school serves 46 preschoolers ages 3-5 and 30 schoolchildren ages 5-22 from across Hancock
County. Blanchard Valley Center also provides services to 54 children ages 2 and under and to 212 adults with disabilities, including 114 who are employed at Blanchard Valley Industries.
Bryan Miller told commissioners his agency, like many other county MRDD boards across the state, is dealing with substantial funding losses and changes in reimbursement rules.
Blanchard Valley was relying on a program known as Community Alternative Funding Systems for $1 million this year to pay for therapy and related services for clients but will "be lucky to get $200,000," he said.
"County boards are very tightly budgeted," Mr. Miller said. "This sent most boards into a tailspin."
He said even if the levy were approved in November, his agency couldn't meet its payroll in January and would have to borrow money.
Mr. Miller told commissioners he has implemented about $269,000 in cost savings in the interim, including a freeze on nonunion employee wages, a reduction in staff through attrition, and a freeze on equipment and supply purchases.
He has also notified all school superintendents in the county that the failure of the MRDD levy would mean Blanchard Valley "will need to shut down unmandated services." If it closed the school, local school districts would be forced to educate the students now served at Blanchard Valley.
By law, county MRDD boards are not required to operate schools and sheltered workshops, but Hancock County residents have always supported keeping Blanchard Valley Center operating to serve the county's residents with disabilities.
Darlene Baney, vice president of the MRDD board, said the agency must pass the new levy and then spend the next three years fighting to get the state's funding situation changed.
Commissioners voted 3-0 to authorize the county auditor to certify the millage for the proposed levy but delayed voting on putting the levy on the ballot until Aug. 12. Mr. Oman said he will try to arrange a meeting with state officials the first week of August.
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