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MRDD seeks replacement tax levy in #039;06

They want to keep a good thing going.

The Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities has agreed to put a 2.5-mill replacement levy on the May 2006 primary ballot.

This levy would be a continuation of the one in place now that was first approved by voters in 1992.

"We're not asking the taxpayers to take on an additional millage burden," Lawrence County MRDD Superintendent Paul Mollett said. "But I feel like we've been good stewards."

The levy would bring in an estimated $500,000, money that is sorely needed to pay for even the most basic of services.

Lawrence County's MRDD program has a restrictive budget to begin with: the myriad of services for some 500 families is provided under a budget of between $4.2 and $4.3 million annually.

The MRDD budget has taken repeated financial hits over the years. Mollett said state funding has decreased continually during the last six quarters. Earlier this year, federal officials announced they will cease funding the entire state of Ohio's Community Alternative Funding Program (CAFS) by June 30 because state officials had never corrected serious flaws in Ohio's CAFS operation.

The roughly $635,000 in CAFS funding provides many of the professional services the Lawrence County MRDD has offered its clients, such as nursing, speech therapy, psychology, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Even though the funding was federal and went to each county individually, it flowed through the state program that officials in Columbus conceded was seriously flawed.

MRDD will take another hit July 1 when it loses $50,000 in Active Treatment Subsidy monies from the state.

This money pays for aides for extremely disabled people enrolled in MRDD programs but who live in nursing homes and similar facilities.

In response to budget cuts, local officials have sliced administrative costs by 24 percent over the last two-and-a-half

years to keep their books balanced.

Mollett said even though the funding is being cut, the needs within the community for MRDD services are very real and deserve to be met.

On Thursday, Mollett asked the Lawrence County Commission for its blessing. All three commissioners were vocal in their support for MRDD programs.

"This is one levy that will be looked upon with favor (by voters)," Commissioner Doug Malone said. "It provides services to people with special needs."

Commissioner Jason Stephens said he had not realized until he was elected to office how what an impact the county's MRDD program has on the lives of developmentally disabled children and adults.

"I'm pleased with how much of a positive effect MRDD has in this community," he said.

Commission President George Patterson said a member of his family has benefited from MRDD services.

Mollett said he hoped that when voters go to the polls next year, they consider the good that MRDD does and opt to continue this avenue of MRDD funding.

"It's not about staff and buildings, it's about services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Yes, we do have a great staff and some nice buildings." Mollett said. "But this is about what our services do for people's lives."