Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carroll County leaders narrowly approved on Tuesday a $515,000 contract with Plains Area Mental Health Center to provide mental-health services to the county’s indigent residents for the next three years.

Patrick Schmitz, executive director of the center, cut about $214,000 from his initial proposal after the Board of Supervisors complained that the cost was too high. The contract was approved 3-2, with board chairman Mark Beardmore and Gene Meiners against the plan, while Neil Bock, Marty Danzer and Dan Nieland voted in favor. It takes effect July 1.

The revised proposal includes startup money to furnish a new mental-health office in town that is more secluded and private than the current office on U.S. Highway 30. No new location has yet been revealed.

In the first year of the contract the county will pay Plains Area about $215,000, which will slide to $135,000 by year three and is comparable to what other counties pay.

The board scrambled to find a new mental-health provider after the Richmond Center, of Ames, said in March that it would end its agreement with Carroll County in June. Counties are required by state law to provide mental-health services to residents who can’t pay for it.

The county paid the Richmond Center about $51,000 last fiscal year. Richmond officials have said they didn’t earn enough money to renew their contract with the county.

No one other than Plains Area proposed a contract with Carroll County, and supervisors lamented that they had little choice but to accept it. The alternative was to send residents to other counties for the services.

“We have to take a risk. We have to look out for the welfare of our clients,” said Danzer.

State lawmakers failed this past legislative session to reform the state’s mental-health requirements, which is expected to encourage counties to join together to offer the services.

Carroll County leaders fear they could lose the $3 million they hold in reserve to pay for the services under the new system.

Beardmore said it is unwise to approve a three-year contract when new laws could be adopted next year.

“It’s like playing roulette with taxpayers’ money,” he said. “If we had a clear vision of the effects of the redesign, it would be an easier decision.”

Meiners, who along with Beardmore voted “no,” was concerned about how much money the county would be spending per mental-health client.

“I think it’s way too much,” Meiners said.

The three supervisors who cast “yes” votes worried that the cost was high but said the alternative of sending residents to other counties was unacceptable.

“We’re not buying a car here — we’re buying for citizens who need the services,” Nieland said.

Neiland proposed a clause in the contract — which his fellow supervisors adopted — that would force renegotiation if there is a change in state law or if the center found ways to cut costs.

Schmitz cut more than $200,000 from Plains Area’s original proposal after he and supervisors toured on Friday the Carroll office in which the Richmond Center currently operates. They found that most of the furniture in the center is county-owned and can be reused. That alone shaved about $100,000 from the proposal.

Schmitz said there’s potential for further cuts.

Bock said the timing of the negotiations couldn’t be worse for the county.

“Since the services that are offered are expensive, it is very difficult for us,” Bock said. “But it’s also very doable because we’ve been fiscally conservative, and we’re not in financial problems that other counties are in.”