Ballot language determines use of mental health levy revenue.

By William K. Alcorn


The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office is reviewing a state attorney general’s opinion that spells out how mental-health levy funds can be used, should the county mental-health and alcohol- and drug-addiction boards merge.

“We just received the opinion Thursday and are in the process of digesting it,” said Linette Stratford, chief assistant prosecutor.

Stratford represents the entities that would be involved in a merger: the county’s mental-health and drug- and alcohol- addiction boards, and the county commissioners.

She said copies of the opinion were sent to the three boards.

“We are looking forward to a joint meeting at which we can discuss various issues and come up with a plan,” Stratford said.

The key issue is how revenue generated by mental-health levies would be used after a merger. The boards sought the attorney general’s opinion.

The mental-health board has two five-year levies that generate a combined $4 million a year — an 0.85-mill levy that brings in about $3 million and expires in 2013 and will be on the November ballot, and a 0.50-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 Ronald Marian, mental-health board executive director.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, the commissioners, whose duty as taxing authority it is to place issues on the ballot, may designate the levies as replacements or renewals “for the current expenses of the mental-health board.”

The ballot language governs how the levy revenue can be used.

The attorney general said revenues and the 2010 mental-health tax levies may be used also to fund alcohol- and drug-addiction services provided by a merged board so long as the expenditure is “consistent with the authorizing tax statute and the tax levies’ authorizing resolutions and ballot language.”

In other words, without a ballot-language change, levy revenue could be used by a merged board so long as it is for the same services that would have been provided by a stand-alone mental-health board, according to the document.

Commissioners also have the authority to create a merged mental-health/alcohol- and drug-addiction board consisting of 18 members, nine of whom are interested in mental-health services and programs and nine of whom are interested in alcohol- and drug- addiction programs.

For initial appointments, each board must jointly recommend members for reappointment and submit them to the commissioners and directors of the mental-health and alcohol- and drug-addiction agencies.

Four each shall be appointed by the directors of mental-health and alcohol- and drug-addiction services, and 10 by the commissioners.

Once the board is established, all property and obligations of both boards must be transferred to the new merged board, according to the attorney general’s opinion.

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