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03-03-04: Mercer County home, MR/DD get funds


Mercer County voters showed their commitment to community-based assistance programs by approving a new property tax levy to fund the county home and a renewal levy to keep intact programs for mentally and physically disabled people.
MR/DD renewal levy
The county Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) renewal levy was the runaway winner of all countywide issues and contested political races decided during Tuesday’s election. Support for MR/DD, also known as Cheryl Ann Programs, topped 76 percent in unofficial vote totals Tuesday night.
MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman said he was impressed with the landslide victory for the five-year, 1.94-mill levy. The levy generates about $1.1 million annually, which is about one-fourth of the MR/DD program’s budget.
Without passage of the renewal levy, MR/DD officials would have had to cut staffing and programming added after the levy was first approved by voters five years ago to meet a growing demand for services.
“The support is wonderful,” Overman said. “We asked all through the campaign for voters to continue the commitment they made five years ago. Fortunately, people were willing to do that.”
The broad support also should be seen by the MR/DD staff as proof they have the community’s support.
“I hope they see the work they do is appreciated,” Overman said.
County home
A 1-mill property tax levy to fund the county home also received wide support. The five-year issue will raise about $712,000 per year, taking some financial pressure off the county’s general fund, and solidifying the short-term future of the home, where about 21 people live. The issue passed with more than 58 percent of the vote in favor of the new tax.
“I’m excited the voters had the conscience to help take care of these people,” Mercer County Commissioner Tom Gagel said.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin admitted he was uncertain how the tax issue would be received by voters, but was pleased with the result.
“It’s good in seeing that they don’t have to worry about finding a place to live,” Laffin said.
Commissioners had made no firm decisions, but failure of the levy could have led to the county home’s eventual closure. Despite the levy’s passage, the county’s finances remain tight, Gagel said.
MR/DD officials and supporters also were rooting for passage of the county home levy. If voters rejected the new tax to run the county home and it was closed, at least 11 of the residents there would have been eligible for at least some MR/DD services.
That would have made for a bittersweet evening for MR/DD officials, who on one hand would see passage of their renewal levy only to immediately be sent scrambling to find a way to provide services to people displaced from the county home.
Luckily, that scenario didn’t materialize, Overman said.
“I’ve always had this special feeling about Mercer County. It’s a little different place than most of the state,” Overman said, noting the community’s tendency to band together in times of crisis and people’s general willingness to make sacrifices to help others.
Combined, the MR/DD and county home levies will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $95 per year in property taxes.


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