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The Legislature finished its work this year without passing a permanent fix for funding the state's regional mental health and disability services (MH/DS) system. Three years ago, the Legislature redesigned the way counties delivered non-Medicaid mental health and disability services.  In an effort to make services more uniform throughout the state and use tax dollars the most efficiently as possible, legislators required counties to operate as regions, set "core services" that all regions were to deliver, and outlined cost-saving "additional core services" that were expected to be developed over time. 

During the redesign, the state agreed to allow all counties within a region to spend up to $47.28 per person.  That was called the "per capita expediture limit."  It basically equalized the amount of money each region would spend per person on services.  About half of Iowa's 99 counties lowered their taxes to the $47.28 limit.  The counties that could not raise their taxes to the $47.28 limit were to receive state dollars to make up the difference. So if you were in a county whose property tax rates were frozen at $40 per capita, the state promised to give you $7.28 per residentt to make up the difference. 

That happened the first year, when legislators appropriated $30 million.  The second year (last year), legislators decided only one county needed money ($2 million was given to Polk County).  This year, two counties were given money Polk ($2.5 million) and Scott ($500,000).  Polk County estimates its shortfall to be $7.1 million, and Scott County says it needs $1.6 million.

The Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) had proposed a fix that would have allowed all counties to raise property taxes up to $47.28 per person.  No state funding would be needed, locally-elected county supervisors would make decisions on property taxes, and the state would continue to approve county/regional plans for services.  That bill (Senate File 2318) was sponsored by Sen. Mark Segebart, a former Crawford County Supervisor. While that bill passed out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee with both Republican and Democrat supporters, it was never debated.

Legislators did pass House File 2456, which held property taxes for MH/DS services down at the $47.28 level for another year.  As you might recall, 45 counties reduced taxes to that $47.28 level in redesign.  Without this extension, those counties could have raised property taxes higher than that level (although all said they would not). The only group supporting this bill was Farm Bureau; it did nothing to permanently fix the problems in the funding of the regional system.

Legislators have promised to act on a permanent and sustainable funding system early next legislative session, but many advocates are skeptical and say they've heard that promise before.  This year, legislators asked the Iowa Farm Bureau (the only opponent of the fix proposed by the counties) and the Department of Human Services to help come up with a solution that meets the need while making sure proper controls are put on property taxes. 

There was a big group of supporters of the ISAC proposal this year: Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, Child & Famliy Policy Center, Easter Seals Iowa,  Epilepsy Foundation, Eyerly Ball Community Mental Health Center, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Iowa Association of Community Providers, Iowa Behavioral Health Association, Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Iowa County Attorneys Association, Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa Police Chief Association, Iowa Primary Care Association, Iowa Psychological Association, Iowa State Police Officers Council, Iowa State Reserve Law Officers Association, Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association, League of Women Voters of Iowa, National Association of Social Workers (Iowa Chapter), National Multiple Scelrosis Society (Upper Midwest Chapter), Orchard Place, United Way of Central Iowa, Veterans' National Recovery Center, and Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa.

For those of you that care about this issue, make sure you talk to your legislators this summer to remind them of their promise.  Ask them how they are coming with a permanent solution, and ask them to keep you in the loop as progress is made!