The Iowa House on Thursday approved a measure that would partly alleviate a longstanding problem with how mental health and disability services are funded in Scott County.
However, county officials and some lawmakers say the bill didn't go far enough.
The Iowa House approved the measure on a 97-1 vote Thursday afternoon. The Senate passed it earlier this week, 46-4, so the bill now goes to Gov. Terry Branstad.
The legislation would equalize how the counties within each of the state's 14 mental health regions raise money to pay for services.
Currently, some counties raise far more per person than others within their regions.
In the five-county Eastern Iowa region, which includes Scott County, the disparity has been a point of tension. Scott County, by state law, has been allowed to tax its residents at less than half per capita than other counties in its region. That disparity, which stemmed from previous changes to state law, has led some counties to threaten to have Scott County booted from the five-county cooperative.
Meanwhile, Scott County officials have warned that without the ability to raise more money, services would have to be cut.
The bill that lawmakers passed this week keeps spending on mental health and disability services at roughly the same level. But the ability to redistribute the burden, as well as some other changes, means Scott County should be able to put off service cuts and have more harmony among its partners, said Lori Elam, director of the county's community services department.
"We have fund balance that will get us through two years, possibly three. We'll be OK," she said. "It's a temporary solution, but at least they did something. We're thankful for that."
The bill will allow Scott County to raise from its residents about $2 million more for mental health and disability services. The four other counties would raise that much less. Essentially, the legislation will mean each of the counties in the Eastern Iowa region can raise up to $30.78 per person. Under the current system, Scott County has been capped at about $19.20 per person, while some other counties were raising up to $47.28 per person. The other counties in the region include Clinton, Muscatine, Cedar and Jackson counties.
The five counties formed a regional partnership as a result of the Legislature's passage of a law in 2012 to redesign how mental health and disability services are delivered in the state.
Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, who floor-managed the bill in the House, said Thursday it accomplished several goals, including eliminating a point of stress within regions, and requires that large excess balances some regions hold be spent.
"That’s taxpayer money, and it needs to be used for services," he said.
The bill passed by a wide margin, but not all who voted for it were happy. Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, voted in favor, but she said afterward that instead of just allowing the handful of counties, where there was a problem, to raise more money, the Legislature usurped local decision-making and changed things for all 99 counties.
And, she added, "It doesn’t fix the problem. Scott County doesn’t have enough money."
The Eastern Iowa region has a $12 million budget, Elam said, but its member counties can raise only $9.2 million. The region has about a $12 million balance, some of which already has been committed. That will give the region some cushion. However, Elam noted, the reserve fund is one-time money and a permanent solution is needed.
The bill also allows for a small inflation increase over a four-year period, through fiscal year 2022. It also creates a study committee to analyze the levy caps and the inflation adjustments.