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pays about 2/3 of mental-health bills

The debt has been cut from $900,000 in October to about $300,000 in February

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 10:56 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 10:59 a.m. CDT

Union County’s mental-health services continued to chip away at its state bills in preparation for the merger with Adair, Adams and Taylor counties July 1.

Central Point Coordinator (CPC) Director Lori Nosekable said she believed Union County was in a good position to reach that goal during Monday’s Union County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

“It sounded like great news,” said Union County Supervisor Ron Riley, who also serves on the regional mental-health board. “It looks like our budget is set up good.”

In October, Union County owed the state more than $900,000 in unpaid bills. Through January, that debt was cut to about $665,000.

Union County Auditor Sandy Hysell said Union County submitted another payment in February and when the check transaction is complete, the county’s mental-health debt will be reduced by more than half to about $300,000.

“The goal of the four counties is to pay off those outstanding state bills, which are mostly medicaid bills,” Nosekable said. “That way each county is clean coming to the merger for the Union County, the fiscal agent.”

The four-county coalition will be called Southern Hills Regional Mental Health.

Unpaid bills

Nosekable said multiple counties in Iowa are in a similar situation with unpaid state bills because of changes in the funding pattern for mental-health services.

The changes in funding left CPC with a smaller operating budget and a major burden on the counties when the state did not forgive any of the debt.

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

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

Adair, Adams and Taylor counties also received transitional funds. 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.

Remaining funds

Union County’s mental-health services is paying the bills with money from the general fund. That money comes from a state-mandated levy on property tax, which comes in every September and March.

Nosekable said she is expecting about $250,000 coming in for mental health in March to help pay the remainder of the bills plus general operation costs through the end of the fiscal year.

“We are keeping on top of it so everybody gets their existing bills paid off,” Riley said.

Adair and Taylor counties will also bring in money from the tax levy, and the counties will receive an equalization fund from the state as soon as the mental-health debt is cleared.

“When the legislature decided to equalize property tax across the state, some counties were below that, so the state is giving money to backfill so counties did not have to raise taxes,” Nosekable said.

Nosekable said after the state bills are paid off, the counties will focus on completing a 28E agreement and a detailed mental-health plan.

“We are finalizing the 28E agreement for the four counties in the region,” Nosekable said. “We sent it to DHS (Department of Human Services) and they kicked it back with two minor suggestions.”

She added the mental-health plan must be turned in by April 1.

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