Scott County's leadership shared myriad priorities with its Iowa legislative delegation Friday before the new session begins next month.
County supervisors and department heads shared concerns with mental health funding, commercial property tax backfill, county bonding authority, unfunded mandates and more. A total of 25 lawmakers and county officials and staff filled the conference room for the county board's special Committee of the Whole meeting.
Lori Elam, CEO of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disabilities Services Region, said the five-county region is struggling to fund existing mental health services and add services required by earlier legislation. "On top of that, we have the children's (mental health) system (to fund)."
At issue, she said is that if all five counties funded mental health at the maximum allowable it would generate $9.2 million. "Our budget is $15 million," Elam said. "So we are using fund balance to help us get through the year. Once it's used, it's gone."
According to Larry Murphy of Iowa's Urban County Coalition, who was part of the roundtable, Iowa historically was the "gatekeeper and funder" of mental health services until the services began to receive federal money and then the burden fell to the counties and municipal government.
"If you're going to have a comprehensive program, the state is going to have to be a big player. That is the point of this political discussion and funding discussion you all are a part of," he told the lawmakers.
County Board Chairman Tony Knobbe urged lawmakers to look into the costs of unfunded mandates including the requirement that counties subsidize office expenses of state agencies, such as paper document storage of the Department of Human Services. "We, the county, gets mandated to do something and not only is it unfunded but... there is no incentive to be efficient."
He also urged them to provide clarity to the definition of a farm. "The language assessors use to determine whether a property is considered a farm is vague," he said.