Butler County officials call mental health levy passage ‘imperative’

Agency says calls for service increasing, while state has cut funding significantly

The number of Butler County residents needing mental health services has doubled to 10,500 in the past decade, agency officials said. Meanwhile, state funding has dropped from 30 percent in 2007 through 2011 to about 11 percent, they say.

The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board relies on two mental health levies to provide 85 percent of its funding: the 0.5-mill levy first passed in 1985 and renewed in 2014 by 71 percent of voters; and the levy up for renewal on the March 15 ballot, which was approved in 2006.

If the levy is successful in the primary — it’s a renewal so there are no new taxes — the owner of a $100,000 house would still pay about $31 annually. If the levy attempt fails, then the mental health board could be looking at negative fund balances before the end of 2017, officials say.

The mental health and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services boards merged last year to streamline services and take advantage of their similar purposes and skill sets and to save money. Executive Director Scott Rasmus stressed that none of the levy money can be used for the addiction services side of the agency.

“The thing is, is that this levy specifically states it’s for mental health operations and mental health services,” he said. “It is right in the levy language. It cannot be used for addictions and substance abuse issues, by edict and by review by the prosecutor’s office.”

Rhonda Benson, executive director of the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said with changes coming on Medicaid horizon, passing the levy is imperative.

“People with mental health disorders have always been under-served,” she said. “If we don’t pass the levy, then we are going to have to cut services eventually. As more and more people are needing things, particularly with the Medicaid, Medicaid is changing the way they are making payments and what they’re going to pay for and how much they are going to pay for it. So these levy dollars are going to become more and more important.”

Lynda O’Connor, president of Caring Community Collaborative, a non-profit group out of Liberty and West Chester townships, is urging voters to support Issue 5 on the ballot. She noted the MHARS 24-hour crisis hotline is averaging 400 calls a month, and the crisis team aided 1,700 people last year.

Dennis Murray, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 2003, is a NAMI volunteer and says the services the MHARS board provides are invaluable. He retired from his position as the environmental director with the Warren County Board of Health in 2014, so he says he has been fortunate to have good health insurance, unlike many who suffer from mental illnesses. That’s where the MHARS levy comes in he says.

He also has a wife, two grown children and friends who have been big supporters, something else many people aren’t fortunate enough to have.

“That’s important with the MHARS levy,” he said. “Some of these folks don’t have those support systems that they need, and the MHARS levy and the dollars that go with it also can help with the support that some of these folks need that they don’t have. I just have been very fortunate.”

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