Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Butler to vote on mental health levy

1-mill tax measure on Nov. 5 ballot would be first hike in 17 years

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County voters will face a 1-mill levy in the Nov. 5 election, a tax measure that county officials consider critical to maintaining mental health services in the growing county.

        The county commissioners unanimously decided Monday to place the five-year levy on the November ballot.

        They promised John Staup, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health Board, that they will do whatever they can to assist the levy campaign.

        “It's not good when we have people who need services and can't get them,” Commissioner Courtney Combs said.

        The board has operated without a levy increase for 17 years. Voters have rejected four mental health levies since 1985, the last defeat coming in 1998.

        Federal and state funding cutbacks, expiring grants and the four levy failures have thrust the agency into a financial crisis, Mr. Staup said.

        The board will cut $1.2 million in services next month and will need to cut another $500,000 next year because of expiring grants.

        Among the casualties would be a Common Pleas Court program for substance-abusing mentally ill offenders and a pilot project at Fairfield Municipal Court for nonviolent mentally ill offenders, Mr. Staup said.

        The levy would generate $6.1 million a year and would raise the property taxes of the owner of a $100,000 home by $30.63 a year.

        “After 17 years, the Butler County Mental Health Board is simply unable to maintain, let alone expand, needed services to meet today's demand for affordable and accessible mental health services,” Mr. Staup said.

        The commissioners praised the Mental Health Board's frugal practices and the quality of services it has been offering.

        “There are very few programs that are as worthy as this,” Commissioner Mike Fox said.

        “You've done all the right things,” Mr. Combs told Mr. Staup. “I believe the people of Butler County will see the need.”

        Butler County's existing millage for mental health services is the lowest in Southwest Ohio, Mr. Staup said, at 0.5 mills.

        Even if the additional 1-mill levy is approved, Butler County property owners will be paying less than half of what Hamilton County property owners pay for public mental health services, he said.

        The board began making cuts last year, when it slashed $650,000 from its budget by restricting reimbursements for treatment to severely mentally disabled adults.


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