Board gives ADMHS $2.3 million but no promises

 

The Santa Barbara County Alcohol Drug Mental Health Services program will receive $2.3 million towards its almost $7 million deficit, but must promise to make improvements to receive additional funding, the board of supervisors decided Feb. 5.

After listening to an ADMHS presentation and hearing over 30 public speakers, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a measure that would give ADMHS $2.3 million to be applied toward the department’s 2007 fiscal year shortfall.

 

The board also tentatively approved an additional allocation of $4.6 million if ADMHS proves its made steps to remedy some of the problems that have caused the financial shortfall.

“I’m really pleased with the board’s support in correcting our financial issue and giving us more time,” said newly appointed ADMHS Director Ann Detrick.

 

The $2.3 million will be immediately taken out of the county’s general fund and applied to ADMHS programs. On March 11, ADMHS is expected to return to the board with a performance statement outlining any improvements. The board will then decide if the improvements are sufficient enough to support allotting additional money. The allocation, two of which remain tentative, will be applied in a three-part series. If the board decides that ADMHS is not making improvements, it will not approve allocating additional funding.

 

The board needs assurance that problems are being fixed in some aggressive way, and maybe it could say “yep,” lets give ADMHS the entire $6.97 million, but it would be wise for the board to tentatively advance $2.3 million, about a third of the deficit, in good faith and then decide if it wants to give more, based on progress, said county CEO Michael Brown.

Detrick said that many factors attributed to the department’s budget deficit, namely a decline in revenue, the state lagging on Medicare and MediCal payments, and increased interest rate payments to the county on money that the department borrowed to keep the program running while waiting for state funding and reimbursements.

 

ADMHS presented two options to the board that attempted to make up for the budget deficit. Option A proposed that the county give $6.97 million to the program, which would have compensated for the entire deficit. Option B proposed that the county give $5.57 million — an option that would require the department to reduce its costs by $1.5 million.

Many speakers pleaded with board members to approve Option A and others warned against the possible ramifications Option B would have on community resources and services, such as hospitals, arrests and jail occupancy, all of which many speakers predicted would rise because people who need mental health services would be unable to receive care.

“Our clients are the most vulnerable in Santa Barbara County. … Today when millions of Americans are exercising their right to vote, I ask this board to vote for Option A,” said Luis Jose Stephens, a speaker.

 

Executive Director for the Mental Health Association, Anne Marie Cameron, was among the 30-plus speakers who were in support of Option A.

“Option A is the best; Option B comes with dire consequences,” she said.

 Andy Caldwell was the only public speaker opposed to both ADMHS propositions, and reiterated that the department needed to take up its budget issues with the state.

He criticized the board for not cutting anything to date and said it needs to start making hard decisions and prioritizing.

 

“You either have to cut cost or increase revenues … You need to establish priorities but what we see you do is roll the dice and continue items to future meetings,” he said.

Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone cast the lone dissenting vote and was visibly disturbed that other board members were spending money he felt the county didn’t have.

He repeatedly asked many speakers and advocates of Option A if they had a plan to generate capital to pay for ADMHS’ deficit, to which 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said it was “unfair” to ask speakers to come up with a response that the board itself couldn’t answer.

“I was really disappointed in all the eloquent speakers who spoke so well about our need but nobody seemed to acknowledge the reality of our financial status,” Firestone said.

 

Board Chair and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal called the state’s MediCal reimbursement a “quagmire bureaucracy” and urged county residents to press local legislators to present bills that would expedite state MediCal payments, something the county attempted in previous years but could not find bill sponsors.

The nearly three-hour meeting concluded with mixed feelings from speakers.

“I wanted Option A,” said speaker Larry Ferguson.

 

“I wasn’t really pleased, but it’s better than loosing completely.”