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Union County mental health faces massive state bill payments

Debt is about $900,000, supervisors want to balance funds by July 1, 2014

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 11:02 a.m. CDT

The reduction in state funding and a hope that the state would forgive state mental-health bills has left Union County mental-health services with about $900,000 in unpaid bills.

Central Point Coordinator (CPC) Director Lori Nosekable met with Union County Board of Supervisors Monday afternoon in an open meeting to discuss payment strategies and explain why the debt was allowed to accumulate.

Nosekable said a large number of Iowa counties stopped paying their state bills when the state changed the funding pattern for mental health, leaving CPC with a smaller budget. She added that members at the Department of Human Services told her there was a good possibility the state would forgive the debt.

That didn’t happen.

“We should have been chipping away at it sooner, but honestly, we didn’t think we would have to pay it back,” Nosekable said.

With a rough estimate of $900,000 in the current mental-health account and $900,000 in unpaid state bills, Nosekable and supervisors discussed a payment strategy to cut down the debt.

“We cannot pay it all at once,” Nosekable said. “We need to leave enough to pay regular monthly bills, plus start to pay off our obligations.”

Nosekable and supervisors want the budget to be current when Union County joins three other southwest Iowa counties in a coalition for mental-health care.

“We want to start with a clean slate when we take over as the acting fiscal agent,” Union County Auditor Sandy Hysell said.

Transition period

Iowa is currently shifting from a county to a regional delivery of mental-health services. Union County will join Adair, Adams and Taylor counties starting July 1, 2014.

While Union and Adams counties do not have a deadline from the state to repay its bills, Adair and Taylor counties are under a mandate to square up state bills by June 30, 2014, in order to earn equalization funding.

“Equalization funds are another pool of money some counties would gain because the county level is higher (than the other counties in the new region),” Nosekable said.

Hysell added all of the counties want to have a clear budget when they start to pool their money together in July.

Union County was one of 26 counties to receive transitional mental-health funding for the 2013 fiscal year. The bill — signed by Gov. Terry Branstad in March — added $597,792 to Union County’s budget of $593,128.

Other counties in the Creston News Advertiser area that received transitional funding are Taylor ($318,252), Adams ($150,742), Adair ($140,478) and Clarke ($22,347).

The transitional funds could not be used to pay back state bills, but it did help with residential facilities like CARE in Afton, transportation costs, mental-health commitments and many other services CPC provides.

Mental-health services receives their funding from a state-mandated levy on property tax, which comes in every September and March.

The levy will continue to be budgeted to the maximum to help pay off the state bills.

“What we bring in is what we have to spend,” Nosekable said.

Other county news

Union County Sheriff Rick Piel informed supervisors of his plan to use funds from the Iowa Governor’s traffic safety bureau for a new in-car camera.

The sheriff’s department receives the funds for participating in safety seatbelt checks.

Piel said he has been working to continually update the six squad cars. The new camera will use a SD card.

Union County Engineer Steve Akes provided his weekly activity report for the secondary roads department.

He also discussed upgrading the phone system. The current setup does not allow individual employees to have a personal voicemail box and calls cannot be transferred from the main office to the shop.

An upgrade would also allow calls to be forwarded to the shop over the weekend, which Akes said would be beneficial during severe weather.

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