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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission proposes cuts to mental health, Tri-Ko budgets

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commission is looking at drastically cutting the budgets of two social service agencies, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center (SEKMHC) and Tri-Ko Inc. so that Linn County can meet revenue neutral.

On Monday, Aug. 28, the Linn County Commissioners decided to reduce funding from SEKMHC from its request for just over $119,600 to $68,000. SEKMHC has an office in Pleasanton and in its budget request said that the agency has served about 450 people in Linn County the past year.

SEKMHC serves Linn, Anderson, Allen, Neosho, Bourbon, and Woodson counties. The headquarters and the office the majority of employees work out of is the Iola office.

Commissioners have been concerned that Linn County is paying more per person served than other counties. According to the figures reported by Commissioner Jason Hightower, by dividing the budget amounts by population, Allen pays $12.45 per person, Anderson $11.76 per person, Bourbon $6.20 per person, Linn $12.21, Neosho $6.98 and Woodson $13.

In SEKMHC requests, management points out that that the amount written off the sliding scale fee for Linn County clients was about $1.44 million.

The move to cut the budget comes just as SEKMHC has ramped up its services in Linn County schools. A couple of years ago, the mental health center established case workers in the Prairie View district, and this year added workers to Pleasanton schools, with case workers now in all three school districts.

Tri-Ko, Inc. an organization that works with intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD) people, originated in Linn County in 1974 but moved its headquarters to Osawatomie in the 1980s. Tri-Ko serves residents from Linn, Anderson and Miami County.

At a June 12 meeting, Hightower figured the amount per person that each county pays is also not equitable according to commissioners. Linn County pays $35.87 per person, Anderson County $16.06 and Miami County $14.54 per person.

Instead of granting Tri-Ko’s budget request of nearly $80,100, which is less than last year’s allotment, the commissioners are discussing an amount of about $35,200 suggested by Commissioner Jim Johnson or Hightower’s suggestion of dropping it by $21,000 to $59,000.

Tri-Ko’s director John Platt presented his budget request on June 12, invited the commissioners to tour the Tri-Ko facility and visited with them about their questions. He provided information including that Tri-Ko pays approximately $800,000 payroll annually to Linn County residents.

Johnson expressed disappointment that they did not get back with commission and supply more information.

Hightower said that was not an issue with Tri-Ko. Tri-Ko’s executive director had met with in person with McCullough, visited on the phone with Hightower and had sent more information when requested.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough said that this was really a significant amount for both of these organizations and he did not want to see either of them fail.

County Clerk David Lamb told the commissioners that, with the numbers that they have been talking about, the county is now under revenue neutral by about $25,000.

“The neutral rate to me is still just a number that a senator came up with that means nothing to how the county runs,” Lamb said. “We are going to reduce the levy no matter what and it is not a sustainable number long term. I don’t know why we worry so much about it.”

Johnson said that the county was wasting taxpayer’s money on paying people that were ripping them off.

Lamb warned the commissioners that eventually it will affect the county’s finances negatively if the county keeps cutting the budget. Just realize that it may come back in another year or two years and the commission will be forced to go over the revenue rate because the county can’t fund the budget anymore at that level, he said.

The county can’t sustain that neutral rate long term because prices continue to increase and you are going to get to a point where you can’t so why keep setting yourself lower every year when prices are going up anyway, said Lamb.

Johnson said that he still wanted to meet revenue neutral.

In the meeting, Commissioner Jim Johnson, looking at the savings that the county might have by these cuts, asked Lamb where they could put the money even though he earlier said, “Save all you can is the way I look at it.”

“Let’s keep the money for the county,” said Johnson.

McCullough asked if they kept the money for the county if Johnson and Hightower would be willing to put that toward keeping or acquiring employees.

Johnson said that the commissioners were already giving them a 4% cost of living increase.

Johnson repeated several times that Linn County had been Tri-Ko’s gold standard.

McCullough expressed concern about what the cuts would do to the daily operations and the repercussions the cuts might have. He was concerned that Linn County residents would not be able to attend Tri-Ko.

While McCullough said that this is the kind of savings that he has been talking about for several years, he felt that the cuts, especially to Tri-Ko might be too drastic.

McCullough reported on the great care the people received at Tri-Ko and asked the other commissioners if they were going to explain to the families or work with the people themselves if Tri-Ko were not available.

McCullough asked Johnson if he had reached out to Tri-Ko.

Johnson did not reply to the question but once again inferred that Tri-Ko had somehow cheated the county because Linn County had historically paid more than the other counties.

“That comes back to bite you when you do things like that,” said Johnson.

Toward the end of the discussion, the commissioners had agreed on giving SEKMHC $68,000, and Hightower and McCullough leaned toward giving Tri-Ko $59,000.

Johnson indicated that he would not support that amount for Tri-Ko but would agreed to $36,000 instead.

McCullough asked Lamb to notify the two organizations of the amounts and ask them to get back with the commission by next Tuesday when the budget will be finalized.

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