Public services for mental health continue to be strapped by state funding cuts, local officials were told Monday.

Public services for mental health continue to be strapped by state funding cuts, local officials were told Monday.


The Jackson County Legislature on Monday renewed the community mental health fund levy and the Board of Services for the Developmentally Disabled (Sheltered Workshop) levy, both at current levels.


The community health levy generates $10.2 million a year, and the county contracts with local non-profits that provide services to the mentally ill and their families. That local money is only spent, however, when all other funding sources – private insurance, state money – have been exhausted.


Bruce Eddy, executive director of the Jackson County Community Health Fund, said state cuts continue to harm what he called the “fragile state of our safety net.” Missouri, he noted, covers mental health costs only for those on Medicaid, leaving out many people far below the official poverty line.


Of Jackson County’s more than 700,000 residents, 13 to 14 percent have no insurance, he said, adding that “$10.2 million is just a drop in the bucket.”


Mary Ellen Schaid, president and CEO of the Gillis Center in Kansas City, which serves 1,400 families across the metro area each year, said the money the levy brings in is vital. For many families, she said, those programs make the difference between parents being able to keep their kids or having to turn them over to state custody – a far more expensive option for taxpayers – so the children can get the help they need.


Untreated mental health issues in youngsters can lead to further mental illness down the road, more hospitalizations, crime and other issues, so taxpayers come out ahead when these problems are addressed early in life, she said.


“It is so easily to say that, but it’s so true,” Schaid said.


The county collects property taxes for a variety of local jurisdictions: itself, schools, fire districts, even the library district. Most of what it collects – most of what shows up on a homeowner’s annual tax bill – the county turns over to those other agencies. Schools collect the most. The county’s share of a typical tax bill is just a fraction of that overall bill, and the handful of specialized levies, such as mental health, are a fraction of that. Under the 2010 levy schedule, for example, a typical homeowner would pay 47 times more in school taxes in the Blue Springs School District than for the mental-health levy.


Legislators held their weekly meeting at Sibley Orchards and met with several people involved with University of Missouri Extension. Pat Farrell, owner of the orchard, is a Jackson County Extension Council member.


Legislators also renewed the 911 levy; there is no change but state law requires an annual approval. The fee shows up on monthly phone bills – for landlines but not cell phones, even though most 911 calls come on cell phones these days.


Legislator Fred Arbanas, D-Lee’s Summit, repeated his call for state legislators to act. Less money is coming in for the service as people abandon their landlines.


“People are getting rid of those, and we’re not picking up the money to keep the program going,” he said.