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Southeast Iowa braces for Gov. Kim Reynolds' mental health bill

The Hawk Eye - 6/16/2021

Jun. 16—After Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill restricting how much money mental health regions are allowed to keep in their accounts, Southeast Iowa Regional Link will be busy trying to figure out how to meet the new requirements.

At Tuesday's Des Moines County Board of Supervisors meeting, Ken Hynman, coordinator of disability services for SEIL, said his group is still trying to figure out what it will do when the new rules come to pass.

"This next year will be a year of planning," Hynman said.

The mental health system in Iowa has gone through a litany of changes over the past decade, including moving from a county-based system to a region-based one. In recent years, regions also have been responsible for an increasing number of services without an increase in funding.

Under the newest change, mental health will not be funded by property tax dollars but by money the state previously had been giving to cities in the form of property tax relief backfill.

But the funding bill didn't just change how the region is funded, it changed the amount of funding as well. Despite being sold as an increase in mental health funding, the reality is SEIL is expected to have a massive cut in its budget. Previously, SEIL CEO Ryanne Wood estimated it will see its funding dip below the current level for at least five years.

Another sticking point of the bill is the reduction in reserve money for mental health regions. Des Moines County already lowered its tax levy to the required level when the state mandated the change several years ago. Now the regions will be required to spend down their ending fund balance over the next several years until they eventually have an ending fund balance of less than 5%.

One issue the regions are facing is how to keep the current mental health staff on the payroll. Counties now have a mental health fund from which they pay their workers. However, the counties no longer will have any money to pay for mental health, which leaves the question of what will happen to the mental health employees needed to run the system.

Hynman said one thing that has been tried is making the mental health region its own organization with its own employees. Hynman said this already has been done in a different mental health region and suggested it could be a solution for Des Moines County. The other suggested option is that Des Moines County could take on the mental health region employees, making them the employees of Des Moines County.

Another mental health region already has gone through the process of privatization, Hynman said, and was able to get health insurance for its employees through the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Gravel roads are drier than normal this year.

"We dried back out really early," said Des Moines County Engineer Brian Carter.

While it is true that less than a week ago parts of Burlington got two inches of rain in one afternoon, Carter said this rain was mostly localized. West of the greater Burlington area, almost no rain has been seen in quite awhile.

While too much moisture can be concerning for gravel roads, so can a lack thereof. Carter told the supervisors that without moisture, it can be difficult for his crews to blade the roads.

Carter is hopeful the Des Moines County 99 bridge will open in August, though it could remain closed until as late as September. Carter, however, said there is not a lot of will on the part of the contractor, nor anyone in the county, to drag the project on for this long.

Carter said the dryer weather will allow the project to be finished sooner rather than later.


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