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The Daily



12-20-03: Mercer County Home’s future in question

Voters to decide on 1-mill property tax levy for home in March


With county revenue and state assistance decreasing, the Mercer County Home is facing a crossroads that has resulted in the extinction of some county homes across the state.
Long known as the “poor house,” the county home’s future will be in the hands of Mercer County voters in March, when a 1-mill property tax levy to fully support the facility is decided.
“We’re giving the people an opportunity to say: ‘Do we want to still continue to provide this service for these people, with the amount of residents that we have?’ ” Commissioner Jerry Laffin told The Daily Standard.
Twenty-one residents currently live at the 138-year-old county home, on a long lane off Ohio 29, west of Celina.
It’s not the poor house anymore, county home superintendent Jerry Moeder said Friday. In the past, the home was more self-sufficient. More able-bodied residents in the past were expected to work, and did support the home by farming and doing maintenance.
Today’s residents range all ages and have individual reasons for living at the county home. Most cannot live sufficiently alone. The reasons range from age and poverty to physical or mental handicaps. Moeder called the home a custodial care facility.
It is not considered a nursing home, because skilled medical care is not offered and residents cannot use state Medicaid funds for room and board costs at the facility. Older residents sometimes leave the facility for medical care, and some move to Medicaid-certified nursing homes when medical needs fit state guidelines.
The annual budget for the county home this year is $642,000. Typically, $420,000 - $460,000 per year comes directly out the county’s general fund to support the budget, Laffin said.
A few residents pay the full price of $40 a day through estate-type accounts. Others who receive social security or disability payments must turn over those funds to the county as payment, Moeder said. Approximately $100,000-$150,000 per year is contributed to the budget from these payments. Income from leasing the farm on the property and providing meals to the Mercer County Jail also supports the facility’s budget.
The occupancy can reach 40 at the home, and has come close in the past, Moeder said. The population changes, but about half the residents are permanent.
Including Moeder, 14 full-time and three part-time employees run the facility and grounds 24-hours a day, taking approximately $420,000 from the budget, including health care and public retirement contributions. Other costs to the 2003 budget include $18,000 in medical contracts for residents, $8,000 for contract repairs and nearly $150,000 for utility costs and supplies for the home and farm.
The county’s general fund budget has seen decreases topping $500,000 in anticipated interest revenue from investment dividends, added with real losses in personal property tax income and local government funding from the state Legislature.
The five-year, 1-mill levy up for consideration would generate about $712,000 per year and would provide for annual expenses, maintenance and major improvements to the building and property. A 1-mill levy would cost a resident with a $100,000 home approximately $35 per year.
“We’ll have to analyze this after the election, as to what we’re going to do. If it doesn’t pass, we need to analyze what kind of a message are we being sent,” Laffin said. “If we see results like 80 percent don’t want the levy, they’re probably telling us ‘You need to really consider closing it.’ “
In 2000, the Ohio County Home Association listed 37 county homes in Ohio, with approximately 15 of those similar to Mercer County’s, offering only residential care. Moeder estimated that very few residential care county homes exist without the assistance of a levy.
“What made this come to the point it did, of some of the county homes starting to close, is the law changed. It’s not a mandate anymore,” Laffin said.
Laffin said Van Wert, Medina and Richmond counties have county home levies coming up and Delaware County recently closed its county home.
So what would happen if the county home closed? Officials asked were not to sure.
Those residents who have the funds or family support can relocate, and those with mental health issues may find support in the regional mental health network. But there are others who don’t fit obvious routes.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Moeder said. “Basically, that is why they were referred to me in the first place. I don’t want to say it’s a last resort ... but that’s the way it happens.”
Keith Turvy, director of the Tri County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board which oversees the local network of clinical care providers, said some residents may be supported by Mental Retardation/ Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) or the services of Foundations Behavioral Health Services, but mental health agencies have not seen an increase in state revenue since 2001.
“We’re in a cutback mode right now, so it would further exacerbate that problem,” Turvy said.
“If the county home were to close, Foundations would have to go in and do a clinical review of clients for serious mental illness,” he said. “Then it would be our responsibility to find alternative residential placement for those individuals.”
“There’s a humanitarian side to this and we can’t answer the question, we don’t know where these people are going to go if we would close the door,” Laffin said. “The three of us commissioners feel this is one way to get a pulse from the people on this issue.”


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P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822