Thursday, January 3, 2008
Planning for new term
By SUE WATSON
Marshall County’s local delegation - representatives Jack Gadd, Tommy Woods and Kelvin Buck and senator-elect Bill Stone - joined the board of supervisors in December to discuss legislative needs for the 2008 session.
A big issue on the agenda was the bill two years ago authorizing money for construction of a mental health crisis center. The cost of construction has shot up since the legislators authorized a bond to construct seven crisis centers in 1999. The center in Marshall County was among those requested.
Gary Anderson, consultant for the county, and the local delegation were instrumental in obtaining construction money for the center; however, some supervisors like George Zinn III and Willie Flemon said they prefer an alcohol and drug treatment facility.
“Our intent - and the county put a lot of effort into the project - was we wanted alcohol and drug rehabilitation and it ended up a crisis center,” Zinn said.
Anderson said the money for the crisis center became available at the last minute and because it was available, he worked with state agencies to get the funds for it under advice in Jackson.
“We used that legislation to plug $2 million into the bond bill for this one,” Anderson said.
Rep. Tommy Woods advised supervisors of a budget crunch coming up in 2008.
“The legislature has been asked to reduce all budgets by two to three percent,” he said. “Mental health (funding) has always suffered and medicare is under stress.”
He said the state’s mental health facilities already built are not fully staffed because of lack of operating money.
“Personally, I don’t think we are going to get the money,” he said.
Buck said he was under the impression the $2 million allocation fell short of actual costs of construction by $1.5 million.
“So the idea is whether the board of supervisors wants us to go back and try to get the rest,” he said.
Buck voiced the same concerns supervisors have expressed in prior discussions - where will the operating money for the facility come from?
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett is one supervisor who expressed concern the county not get caught with the obligation to fund operations which yearly can run between $1 million and $2 million.
Anderson said the legislation would have to be “tweaked” to get the bill’s authorization changed from a mental health crisis intervention center to an A&D treatment facility.
The crisis center would be available to house and treat clients who are too ill to be at home and who are being held in jail for a lack of space in a state facility.
Anderson advised supervisors the project will be reviewed to look at the services Marshall County wants - an A&D facility.
“We may have enough money to build an A&D treatment center for both inpatients and outpatients,” Anderson said. “It is premature to put a dollar (figure) on what we need additionally. We will have to wait to hear.”
Mental health facilities are already located in Corinth, Oxford, Batesville, Anderson added.
He said it will take 18 months to get the project going but the county has to make sure the money for an A&D facility is added as a line item in the state budget. He said getting a project in a line item shows legislative intent.
Bennett asked if the state would provide money for staffing an A&D center.
Gadd responded that every state agency wants operating money.
“I just looked at the budget recommendation and they want to cut by 13 percent,” he said. “The legislature could redirect the money (to another project) if Kelvin thinks (it advisable).”
“The question is, what does the board want?” Buck said. “If we can get the support of our delegation and the board of supervisors, I suggest we continue on course and try to get this done. We will yield to what you guys want.”
Supervisor Willie Flemon said he thinks there is a need for the crisis center - that it would help the sheriff find a place for the mentally ill.
“I don’t want a big building out there and an albatross (the operational costs) around Marshall County’s neck,” Bennett said.
Supervisor Keith Taylor concurred.
“Once the keys are handed to Marshall County, what does this board have to budget each year?” he asked. “We are trying to cut (the millage rate).”
Buck said there are several state agencies - such as the WIC program - located in the county and the county is not responsible for the operating costs of those.
“If the building is built, are we clear the county is under no obligation to staff it?” Zinn asked.
Anderson said the county’s only responsibility, he was told, was to find or provide a suitable site for the crisis center.
“All operational expenses would be borne by the state,” he said.
Buck reminded the board that there are similar state facilities that are not open because the state lacks money to staff them.
Zinn asked about the actual dollar amount that was underestimated to construct the crisis center.
“Dr. Hendricks gave a price of $1.7 million,” he said. “Is it likely it would have been underestimated by several million?”
Anderson said Hendricks was advised the county wanted an A&D facility and Hendricks provided a building design at no cost.
He said the cost was estimated at $2 million.
“We just took his information and ran with it,” he said.
County administrator Larry Hall tried to clarify the request.
“I think we started out as a drug intervention center and when I was asked by Kelvin Buck to poll the board it was a crisis center,” he said.
Buck said the costs to construct an A&D center and crisis center differ.
“The thing about it,” said Anderson, “is that was the only horse we could ride. It was the 11th hour and we ran with it.”
Woods reminded the board the legislature is going into a new four-year term when things can change a lot in Jackson.
“We are up in the air as to who is going to be speaker of the House,” he said.
Committee assignments are up for grabs and who chairs which committee, or who is elected as House speaker, can make a big difference, Woods said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We are in the worst situation we’ve been in in the 20 years since I’ve been in the House. It’s something you take into consideration.”
Buck suggested the board decide what type of facility it wants first.
“Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose,” he said. “It just boils down to that. Regardless of who is in leadership, we can give it a shot. What’s not clear to me is what you want.”
“The board needs to decide,” said supervisor Eddie Dixon.
With that Zinn made a motion to move in the direction of getting a drug treatment facility.
Hall asked if the appropriated dollars could be spent for something else.
“There are a number of other things you all are looking at that may be coming in the same way,” Anderson said. “So, as soon as the board knows what project you want to put in the hopper, we’ll all be working toward it.”
Buck added that some local and privates the county has could be put in for multiple years of funding requests.
“The Chickasaw Trails, ICS Head Start, is there anything else we need to do from a legislative standpoint?” he asked.
Bill Renick with the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority answered there could be some items come up that require special legislation, but nothing specific is ready for request at this time.
The board, at Hall’s suggestion, designated a point person in the local deligation be named to advise the others when the board needed communication on projects.
The board then motioned to direct requests to Woods for communication to the rest of the delegation.
Zinn thanked the legislators for their help.
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