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Monday, October 29th, 2007

Tri County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services seeks levy

By Timothy Cox
With its budget reserves nearly depleted, Tri County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services faces further service cutbacks without replacement of its 1-mill property tax levy.
The agency that oversees mental health and substance abuse treatment in Mercer, Van Wert and Paulding counties is straining to make its $6 million annual budget stretch any further. Voters will be asked at next week's general election to replace the expiring levy with a new, 10-year, 1-mill levy.
Due to increases in property tax valuations, Tri County's existing levy millage has been rolled back. The 1 mill approved by voters in 1988 now collects at an effective rate of 0.6 mills, generating about $1 million annually. The new levy would restore the full 1 mill and raise about $1.5 million annually.
"The levy will be used to maintain the existing system of care," Tri County Executive Director Keith Turvy said. "Simply put, the system can no longer support 2007 costs based on 1988 revenues. We hope Mercer County taxpayers will continue their support and generosity so we may continue to restore and improve people's lives."
The levy would cost the owner of a $70,000 home about $21.44 annually, an increase of about 70 cents per month over what they now pay.
The levy requires a simply majority among the voters in the three counties combined for passage. The levy does not have to pass in all three counties to take effect.
About 7,500 Mercer County citizens are served annually by Foundations Behavioral Health Services, Gateway Outreach Center and Mercer Residential Services, Turvy said. Tri County administers state and federal funding to those agencies and others in Van Wert and Paulding counties.
"These facilities help to keep our children drug-free, help older adults maintain a positive outlook, keep families together and assist people in leading productive lives," Turvy said. "No one is denied services based on an inability to pay. An income-based sliding fee scale is used and subsidized by the local mental health levy."
Tri County officials have used budget reserves in an effort to avoid service cuts. The levy would only stabilize the existing system, not allow for new programs, Turvy said.
Tri County now has a reserve balance of only about $153,000, a perilously low number for a $6 million budget, Turvy said.
"I think for 20 years we've demonstrated fiscal accountability. We're not immune to rising costs. We just can't meet 2007 costs with 1988 revenue," Turvy said.
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