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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

County braces for state impact

Sunday, November 18, 2001

BV officials worry over human services cuts, districts.

Buena Vista County officials came home from Des Moines knowing that the hammer will fall. They just wonder when.

During an Iowa Association of Counties training session Wednesday and Thursday, Governor Tom Vilsack came to huddle with the county officials, and he wasn't the jovial leader they have come to know.

"He was quite somber when he came to speak to us, quite serious. I wouldn't say he was down, but he did say that he would be asking counties to partner with the state to get through the economic crisis," said veteran Buena Vista County Supervisor Jim Gustafson. "He said we are all going to have to rise to the occasion."

What that is likely to mean to Buena Vista County are sharp cuts in human services and mental health funding - the areas where local and state budgets most often cross paths.

The local officials are concerned about implications of the cuts to the Department of Human Services, and what that could mean to local citizens.

"I'm worried about how the new DHS districts are made up. The whole of northwest Iowa, from Ida County north to Minnesota, and Buena Vista west all the way to the Missouri River, will be one district, where we used to have our director for an area of only four counties," Gustafson said.

That puts leadership farther away, and raises concerns about equitable division of resources and accountability across a sprawling 15-county area.

"It may not be as serious for BV County as those counties

around us who will be reduced to part-time offices. If we are cut to the point where people can't find help at those offices, they will end up in the courthouse looking for help. General relief is the one program we have that might help, but if the state cuts put an extra burden on that fund, we could have a problem in a hurry," Gustafson said.

"We are all concerned about child response, the seriousness of it. I guess that's DHS responsibility, but it is going to be kind of tough to protect the children. I think Vilsack eluded it it. He is concerned," he added.

The county has little resources to respond to child endangerment situations, and little ability to investigate problems, beyond the law enforcement angle.

The state officials eluded questions about mental health concerns, Gustafson said, but they want to get rid of the state cost for legal settlement. Legal settlement occurs in the period after people move to a new area. Until they have lived in a county for a year, the county is not responsible for their mental care as citizens, and the state has picked up that tab.

"The funding has already been terrible, and I'm afraid some of what we had is gone now. Guess who is going to get left picking it up," Gustafson said of local taxpayers.

"I'm especially concerned because this can be a transient community. It could get very pricey if the wrong things happen. It's a battle."

The governor is admitting that state government isn't going to be pretty or enjoyable this year. Already, $197,000 is gone from state funding for mental health disability services in Buena Vista County, and the word is out that the state will probably cut back on the 50 percent it has traditionally paid toward general mental services, according to Gustafson.

"That amounts to $500,000 a year in Buena Vista County. If that is pulled back on us, we are going to run out of reserves. We have a little breathing room right now, we might be okay if it happens for just one year. But if the state pulls that money out for two or three years, we will reach the point of no return, and there will have to be tax increases to cover it."

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