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Linn County puts crisis intervention center on hold for now Supervisors delay contract until regional financial decision in January

Gazette - 12/24/2019

Dec. 23--CEDAR RAPIDS -- Linn County supervisors say they may have to leave the nine-county mental health region -- to which Linn pays $8 million annually -- if the region doesn't support contributing over $1 million in operational costs for crisis intervention.

Separately, Supervisor Ben Rogers and other county representatives met Monday with the Hall-Perrine Foundation at its request to discuss alternative funding for the county's crisis intervention center, which had been expected to open in July until a funding gap came to light after supervisors had hired a director and were poised to finalize a construction contract.

Rogers said the meeting was informational and he did not expect a decision Monday.

As a member of the East Central regional mental health board, Rogers had proposed Friday the board include $1.8 million in its budget to fund operational costs for crisis intervention access centers in Linn and Johnson counties.

The access centers are meant to help people deal with mental health crises and substance abuse issues, diverting them from more costly jails and hospitals.

But oher regional board members -- supervisors from other counties in the region -- denied his proposal, saying the discussion was premature until they had further discussed the region's fiscal 2021 budget.

Additionally, the region's budget director was on vacation and not available to answer board member questions. The next East Central board meeting is Jan. 23.

Linn County needs over $1.4 million more to operate its planned access center because of expected delays in Iowa Medicaid reimbursements. An additional $600,000 also is needed to offset a loss from substance abuse services, cost not eligible for funding from the region's Mental Health and Disability Services fund.

Linn County has contributed $3.5 million toward the county access center, but for now has delayed approving a construction contract for it.

Nine counties pay between $400,000 and $8 million apiece to the East Central mental health region, of which Linn County pays the largest share. The region is one of 14 like it in Iowa supported by taxpayers.

"I do want to illuminate the amount of money this county is putting into the region to benefit everyone in the region" -- which includes Linn, Johnson and seven other counties, Supervisor Stacey Walker said.

Walker said if the region doesn't support access centers, Linn County may have to consider leaving it and forming another mental health region instead.

"I'm hopeful we won't have to go that route because we'll have a good meeting in January," Walker said.

Linn County Finance Director Dawn Jindrich said the county can await the Jan. 23 decision in planning the fiscal 2021 budget as its deadline is a few weeks after that.

Jindrich said the county received an email from the region's budget director over a month ago saying $1.8 million was being penciled in to support access centers.

"It's almost impossible to move forward without regional support," Jindrich said Monday at a Board of Supervisors meeting. "You can only use mental health dollars for those mental health services, and all of those mental health dollars run through the region."

Gnarling Construction also agreed to give the county a one-month extension for signing a contract to renovate the former Linn County Public Health building into an access center.

Supervisors deferred signing the contract until a Jan. 28 meeting.

Darin Gage, Linn County director of Policy & Administration, said the cost of construction materials may increase by then, and that tab would need to be passed along to the county.

"It's a really good thing they're willing to wait for us," Walker said. "I do think it's fair if after the New Year some material costs increase that we are able to absorb those costs."


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