By Timothy Cox
Faced with cutting services or finding more money, Mercer County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities likely will ask voters to approve a new property tax levy on the November ballot.
MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman was asked by board members to compile a comprehensive fiscal analysis for them to study the issue. Overman this morning said he could not speculate how much money the program would need or how many mills the property tax levy might seek.
Mercer County Commissioners ultimately would decide whether an MR/DD levy should be placed on the ballot.
The program will not be able to survive another year without generating more revenue or scaling back services, Overman said. The $4.1 million budget already is stretched to the limit, he said.
MR/DD employs about 60 part- and full-time employees who serve more than 300 developmentally challenged individuals ranging in age from infants to senior citizens. Three full-time direct care positions have not been filled when they opened up the past couple of years to save money, Overman said. Employees also have not been given pay raises. Nearly all non-essential items have been stricken from the budget in recent years, he said.
Those spending cuts have been offset by other rising expenses. Employee health insurance costs have seen steep increases, and the program had to help pay for city water service to be extended to the site west of Celina. Additionally, a Medicaid reimbursement program that is set to lapse June 30 could reduce federal funding to the local program by $300,000 annually, Overman said.
"We're faced with a dilemma," he said. "Unless we can generate some new revenue, we're going to be faced with starting to tear down what we have built."
Board members are expected to decide on the issue in June or July, Overman said. Commissioners would have to file paperwork with the county elections board by mid-August to place a levy on the ballot.
Board members could opt for a completely new levy or could seek replacement of the agency's continuous property tax millage at higher millage rates. Millage approved long ago has been slowly rolled back through the years as property values increase. By restoring the millage to original levels, more money would be collected.
The MR/DD program has not sought any new local tax money since 1999, when voters approved a 1.94-mill property tax levy that allowed the program to expand to meet demands of clients. That levy was renewed by voters in May 2004 for another five years.