CURRY OFFICIALS BRACE FOR CUTS
November 26, 2002 11:00 pm

By BILL LUNDQUIST

Pilot Staff Writer

GOLD BEACH – Curry County officials scrambled Tuesday to cope with cuts made to the mental health and addictions treatment system by the Oregon Emergency Board on Nov. 7.

The county commissioners and Human Services staff also braced for further cuts which will go into effect if Measure 28 does not pass in the Jan. 28 election.

Human Services Director Deb Wilson estimated her department could suffer at least $419,326 in budget cuts in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Her immediate problem, however, was the cut made by the emergency board for the current fiscal year.

It will take nearly $100,000 from the current budget of the Curry County Human Services Department between March 1 and June 30.

Wilson said it surprised state and county human services heads when a senator on the emergency board pushed through an idea to cut Oregon Health Plan mental health and addictions treatment benefits for certain types of clients.

"It came very unexpectedly," she said. "It was not part of the proposed reductions." She said no public hearing was held on the budget cut.

Wilson, her division leaders and the commissioners, including commissioner-elect Ralph Brown, munched on pizza while they worked through the lunch hour on the problem.

A conference call with Ralph Summers of the Oregon Mental Health Addictions Service cleared up some confusion over when the cuts will begin.

Beginning March 1, the Oregon Health Plan will no longer provide mental health or addictions treatment benefits for 118,000 singles or couples without children statewide.

The Human Services Department will lose those types of clients and the revenue it had projected in its current budget.

To make matters worse, neither the commissioners nor anyone they talked with at last week's Association of Oregon Counties meeting believed the temporary income tax increase measure will pass in January.

Wilson said the action of the emergency board will cost her mental health program $13,750 a month in revenue.

The failure of Measure 28 will cost it an additional $2,167 a month, adding up to a loss of $63,666 from March 1 to June 30.

Fortunately, said Wilson, an increase in health plan payments has brought in about $7,000 a month more than anticipated since October.

If that trend continues until March 1, she said, Human Services will receive $56,000 more than it had budgeted.

Also, said Wilson, her mental health program manager resigned on Nov. 19. Instead of hiring a replacement, she will promote Terry Bell to be the clinical director of both the mental health and addictions programs, saving another $11,250.

Wilson said another cut of about $50,000 needs to be made by January 1 to prepare for the budget cuts that will go into effect July 1.

She said she may move one employee to a position that can generate more revenue, and not replace another employee who is leaving.

Wilson said she would discuss the options with her staff and the county's personnel officer, and meet with the commissioners in another workshop Dec. 11.

Elimination of health plan benefits for chemical dependency and the indigent DUII fund will cost the addictions program $33,148 between March 1 and June 30.

Fortunately, said Bell, more client fees and DUII rehabilitation dollars have been coming in than anticipated, making up for $23,484 of that loss.

She had hoped the remainder could be made up by providing treatment in the jail, but that program has also been eliminated.

Bell now hopes the remaining $9,664 loss can be made up from unanticipated grant revenue, and from greater than predicted demand for gambling treatment.

Wilson said her department's developmental disabilities program will lose $30,557 a year in revenue if Measure 28 does not pass. She said families that have been receiving the services will no longer do so.

The employee position is funded with case management dollars, and some of that funding may also go away with the state's elimination of the Universal Access Program. Wilson said the shortfall could be made up by not filling a half-time vacancy.

She projected that, in all, the county's mental health program would be cut by $289,325 in the next fiscal year.

The addictions program would lose $99,444, and the developmental disabilities program $30,557.

In the long run, said Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf, the commissioners would have to decide what kind of programs Human Services could provide.

"My worry," she said, "is that the state dangles a few bucks and we bite. We create a dependency on certain services, then the state money goes away."

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said she'd watched mental health grow from a small program to a large one.

She said everything would have to be looked at now, including facilities.

Wilson agreed, and said another option is to treat more clients in group therapy. She predicted the need would grow for the county's 24-hour crisis service, but said no one pays for it.

She said of her department, "The management team will have to take it apart and put it back together."

She also said she didn't know how the budget cuts would affect the ongoing feasibility study to turn Human Services into an independent nonprofit organization.

Schaaf said that idea is now less financially feasible, and Bell said the management team would have to put all its time and energy into reorganizing Human Services.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer warned that increases in the state retirement plan, health insurance costs, and the county's new cost-allocation plan could add another $300,000 to Wilson's burden next year.

She said Curry County may have to tell the state it can only provide mandated services and nothing else.

"You can't do more with less," said Schaaf. "You can only do less with less."