Board wonders about effect of merger

By William K. Alcorn


The Mahoning County Mental Health Board wants to know how its property-tax levies would be affected if it merges with the county Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.

The boards officially have been talking about a merger since April.

Specifically, if the merger occurs, the mental-health board will seek a legal opinion from the Ohio attorney general on if it can continue to collect revenue from the levies; if there would be restrictions on use of the money; and when the levies expire, if the ballot language would refer to them as renewals, replacements or new, said Laura Lyden, mental health board president.

At Thursday’s mental-health board meeting, Linette M. Stratford, county chief assistant prosecutor who represents both boards, said it is her opinion that in the event of a merger, levy revenue would continue to be collected and spent for clients of both boards, and that the levies could be billed as renewals on the ballot.

The Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board does not have a levy.

Despite her opinion, Stratford advised the local board to seek an opinion from the state attorney general, who represents the state Department of Taxation and the Secretary of State, who determines ballot language.

Ultimately, Stratford said, the county commissioners will determine if the two boards can merge and if levies are placed on the ballot.

Lyden said the board was unable to vote on a request for an opinion from the state attorney general at its meeting Thursday because of the lack of a quorum. She said the board normally does not meet in July, but she expects to call a special meeting next month to deal with the issue.

The mental-health board has two five-year levies that generate a combined $4 million a year — an .85-mill levy that brings in about $3 million and expires in 2013, and a .50-mill levy that generates about $1 million a year and expires in 2015.

Levy money is used for programs and services not funded or fully funded by state and federal grants, said Toni Notaro, administrative director.

“In my opinion, our main purpose is to assure the highest level of care for our clients. The levies are crucial to accomplish that, and that is why it is important to get definitive answers from the attorney general,” Lyden said.

Mahoning is one of just three counties in Ohio in which the mental-health and alcohol and drug-addiction boards have not merged, said Ronald Marian, mental-health board executive director.

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