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Mental health board seeks levy funds to address opioid epidemic, mental health in schools

By Justin Wier

Friday, April 6, 2018

By Justin Wier

jwier@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Voters this November will decide whether to approve a levy officials say is vital to the operation of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

“We get money from state and federal funds, but they don’t give us the flexibility to meet the special needs of our community,” said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the recovery board.

Those needs include increased access to treatment for those affected by the opioid epidemic and more mental health services in Mahoning County schools.

“We’re hearing from the public school system,” Piccirilli said. “There’s a real need for us to be doing more in the schools.”

The Mahoning County commissioners voted Thursday to request the auditor’s certification for the measure, which will renew an existing 0.85-mill real-estate tax levy and add an additional 0.5 mills on top of that.

It will cost the owner of a $100,000 house $43.20 per year.

The new levy would increase the board’s annual levy revenue from about $4.3 million to $5.4 million.

Recovery board officials said they will not seek renewal of a 0.5-mill levy passed in 1976 which is up for renewal in 2020.

Commissioner David Ditzler compared the additional 0.5 mills on the ballot this fall to a replacement levy, which will bring the 1976 levy up to current property values.

Piccirilli said that moving to a cycle where the board only participates in one levy campaign every five years will save money on advertising and election costs.

“Those are dollars we want to put into direct services,” he said.

The demand for those services has increased 300 percent since 2003, when the board asked the public to add the 0.85-mill levy.

Brenda Heidinger, associate director of the recovery board, said the opioid epidemic has put stress on the system as a whole, including first responders, hospitals and the criminal court system.

The board works closely with the jail to make sure inmates have the services they require before they return to the community in an effort to prevent recidivism.

They also work closely with first responders who may be exposed to traumatic sights which puts them at risk for mental health issues.

“When they go home without support, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder,” Piccirilli said. “If you don’t take care of it right away, it’ll come back.”