Public weighs in on mental health millage proposal

Alex Doty • Nov 11, 2015 at 10:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — The public had a chance Tuesday to chime in on a request to place a countywide Community Mental Health millage on the March 2016 ballot.

Facing a funding crisis in the coming years, Ottawa County’s mental health agency has proposed a 10-year, 0.3-mill ballot issue. In its first year, it is estimated that the millage would bring in a little more than $3.2 million.

The conversation took place at a County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Grand Haven resident Barbara Lee, founder of a local faith community called Extended Grace, is a millage supporter. She said mental health is a root cause for many issues affecting people’s lives.

“I know full well of the priority mental health has to take in order to address all the systemic issues we have,” she said.

Lee noted that her son deals with his own mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

”I’m very grateful for the services he was able to receive,” she said. ”(But) he is being affected by the cuts.”

Lee added that the community must come together to address the various issues facing those with mental health needs.

Earlier this year, changes were made to the way Community Mental Health receives Medicaid funding. A $6.8 million hit over the next four years, the new methodology begins Oct. 1, 2016, and disburses Medicaid funds on a per-member, per-month basis.

The local agency’s staff has looked at ways to contract with other partners to provide services, identify and provide the most timely and cost-effective services to clients, and making administrative efficiencies.

Patrick Cisler, executive director at Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance and Community Spoke, also called for county commissioners to put the millage on the ballot.

“At a time when services should be expanded, services have been cut,” he said. “It’s no surprise why we’re seeing suicides in the newspapers at all ages.”

Cisler also said that mental health issues are at the root of many problems that he sees people facing at his organization. One in four young adults is dealing with mild to severe psychologic distresses, he noted.

Not everyone attending Tuesday’s meeting was in favor of the millage. Spring Lake resident Michael Kuras said his issue isn’t whether people should be getting services for mental health, but who should provide the services. 

“What is the proper role of government in society?” Kuras said. “If you put this question on the ballot, you’ll be saying to the people of Ottawa County that the proper role of government in Ottawa County is to take care of people.”

Those roles, he said, should instead be filled by outside institutions.

County spokeswoman Shannon Felgner said the County Board of Commissioners will likely decide on the ballot proposal at the end of the month.

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