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07-29-05 Mercer MR/DD wants levy vote in November

By Timothy Cox

  Mercer County voters will be asked in November to approve a property tax levy for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD), the first new money the program has sought since 1999.

  MR/DD board members still have not finalized their ballot plans but could seek as much as $1.7 million more annually. MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman said the department likely would seek considerably less than that amount but could not offer specifics.
  Raising $1.7 million countywide would require a property tax levy of about 2.3 mills, Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said. A 2.3-mill tax levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $70 annually, he said.
  Property owners now pay 3.419 total mills toward the MR/DD program, about $105 annually on a $100,000 home, Giesige said. The agency also receives some state and federal funding.
  MR/DD board members meet Monday, where a "major discussion" on the levy issue is expected, Overman said.  Overman met Thursday with Mercer County Commissioners in what was a precursor to a formal request to the commissioners to place a tax levy on the ballot.
  Commissioners did not say specifically whether they supported an MR/DD ballot issue, but said agency officials would have to launch an aggressive campaign to educate voters. Many people still associate the program with the old Cheryl Ann School, not the modern agency that provides an array of services to more than 325 people, including infants through adults, they said.
  "Educating the community will be key," Commissioner Bob Nuding said.
  Commissioner Jim Zehringer agreed that marketing will be critical to any MR/DD levy's success.
  It will be up to commissioners to place any MR/DD issue on the ballot.
  MR/DD officials need more money in the budget to offset past unforeseen expenses, costly mandates from the state and the recent loss of the Community Alternative Funding System, a state Medicaid reimbursement program, Overman said. The Medicaid money alone accounted for nearly $300,000 annually that the program must now do without.
  "If we are not able to replace those dollars, that will have a real severe impact," Overman said, speculating that program cuts and layoffs would be necessary without passage of the levy.
  Agency officials have worked hard in recent years to control costs, Overman said. Three direct care positions have been eliminated in recent years when those people left their jobs, he said.
  "And every year our enrollment has continued to grow," Overman told commissioners.


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