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TRUMBULL CO. MRDD board to lay off 27



Published: Wed, May 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The board will cut $1.8 million off its $16.5 annual budget.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- The Trumbull County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities will lay off 27 employees to keep the agency in the black.

Board members informed county commissioners of the layoffs on Tuesday.

Fourteen of those losing their jobs work with the board's disabled clients, said board superintendent Douglas Burkhardt. The other 13 are in administrative positions. The board has also decided to allow 11 vacancies to go unfilled.

Layoffs come on the heels of cost-cutting measures last month, including elimination of a senior adult day-care center with Scope Senior Center and terminating contracts with Psycare for psychological counseling and with Coleman Professional Services for one-on-one on-site job training.

"Programs that were not mandated had to be eliminated or reduced to get back to fiscal responsibility," said Linda Tiihonen, president of the board.

The board is scrambling to trim $1.8 million from its $16.5 million annual budget to compensate for surprise reductions in levy and Medicaid revenue.

The job descriptions of those laid off are being withheld until the employees are notified, Burkhardt said. Before the layoffs, the board had 325 employees to run programs to serve 1,100 severely disabled adults and children, including Fairhaven Programs' sheltered workshops and schools.

Remaining employees are being asked to do more than they did before to absorb the impact of cutbacks, Burkhardt said. Expanded job descriptions were to be discussed in a meeting with officials of the union that represents employees who care for clients, he said.

Lost revenue: The board's income from real estate levies dropped $134,000 last year, after the state settled a lawsuit that reduced the assessment on public utilities. The bigger hit came after a state audit last year of 1998 books found that the board was incorrectly billing Medicaid for certain nursing services, to the tune of $600,000 per year.

"We spent the money, collected the money, and now they changed the rules about how you can bill for it," Burkhardt said. The finding has not been finalized, and there is a possibility that affected MRDD boards might band together and sue, he said.

In the meantime, the board is looking for ways to reduce costs. The board had been counting on Medicaid revenue to increase by 10 percent a year when it drafted its last five-year plan in 1998, so it now not only has to compensate for lost revenue, but for anticipated revenue that never came, said Thomas Stanko, the board's chief financial officer.

Tiihonen said the board needed to balance its budget before going to the voters to renew its levy next year.

"We need to get our house in order before we ask for anything else," she said.




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