By Timothy Cox
Mercer County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) members finalized plans for a bare bones $4.1 million budget that represents a $300,000 decrease from spending this year.
Board members have their fingers crossed though, hoping an ongoing dispute between all 88 Ohio MR/DD county boards and the state will be resolved soon. Settlement of the Medicaid-related issue could result in the influx of hundreds of thousands of dollars the local board believes it is owed from past years.
Getting that money would mean board members could add in some of the things missing from the 2005 budget -- staff pay raises, staff development and training and major equipment purchases.
Going through 2005 without pay raises would make two consecutive years with no pay hike for the program's 60 employees.
"If a lot of (Medicaid money) comes in, the board would like to give the staff something," Superintendent Mike Overman said. "They're real cognizant of the fact that after two years, this becomes a staff retention issue. We don't want to lose any of the good people we have." In addition to holding the line on spending, MR/DD officials are achieving the budget reduction by not replacing some personnel who quit or retired this year. The MR/DD budget must be approved by county commissioners but the agency is not bound by county commissioners' mandate that county offices trim their budgets for next year. No county general fund tax money goes to MR/DD; its revenue comes from state and federal sources and through a series of local property tax levies.
The $300,000 cut represents a reduction of about 5.5 percent.
Also at this week's regular meeting, board members agreed to retain Medicaid Consulting Services again in 2005. The consultants visit the local agency at least monthly and help the program remain in compliance with often-complicated Medicaid rules, Overman said. They also train staff members on the latest Medicaid requirements.
Ohio law requires MR/DD boards to contract with such a consultant or to have someone on staff to do the Medicaid compliance work. Mercer County pays about $7,000-$8,000 annually for the consulting, Overman said.
"They're real valuable to have," Overman said. "It's real easy to fall out of compliance with Medicaid rules, sometimes just by using common sense."
The consulting service also is assisting in negotiations toward settlement of the ongoing Medicaid argument between the state and local MR/DD boards.