Need for services grows while state funding decreases
By William K. Alcorn
The $3,266,510 raised annually by the Mahoning County Mental Health Board’s five-year, 0.85-mill levy, up for renewal on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, provides about 25 percent of the agency’s annual budget.
“The levy is crucial to our ability to continue to provide an appropriate level of services. It is not a new tax,” said Daniel R. Yemma, chairman of the county mental-health board.
A second five-year mental health property tax levy of 0.5-mill, that generates about $1 million per year, is not up for renewal until 2015. The levies combined provide about one-third of the agency’s annual budget.
Funding from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has decreased 25 to 30 percent since 2009, making it increasingly challenging to provide services to an already under-served population of individuals experiencing mental-health difficulties, Yemma said.
At the same time, he said, the need for services has never been greater, with high unemployment being a primary factor.
“It is imperative that the mental-health board is able to continue to provide our mental health agencies with the funding necessary to provide services, especially considering there has not been a mental-health hospital in Mahoning County for several years,” said Yemma.
The reduction in state and federal funding over the past five years has had a ripple effect of decreased funding to mental-health board-funded agencies. In a belt-tightening move of its own, the board laid off two staff members, said Toni Notaro, mental health board administrative director.
Core mental-health board contract agencies are: Turning Point Counseling Services, D&E Counseling Center, Compass Family and Community Services, Help Hotline Crisis Center, and the Mahoning County Community Support Network.
Levy dollars support a myriad of counseling, psychiatric crisis and case-management services; support services provided in jails, schools, the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, and hospital emergency rooms.
In 2012-2013, mental- health agencies funded by the board served some 15,000 people, a number that has increased steadily over the last eight years, Notaro said.
Without the money generated by the levies, services for individuals without insurance or who are under-insured would be severely curtailed or eliminated, Notaro said.