Wood Lane wants new money
Written by MARIE THOMAS BAIRD Sentinel Education Editor
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 09:54
Wood Lane will try for a new 3.5-mill operating levy in November.
The five-year property tax is expected to bring in an additional $9.6 million to the program which offers services for students with special needs from birth through age 22; employment, therapeutic programs, and activities for older adults; as well has housing options.
The Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which oversees Wood Lane School and Industries as well as Residential Services, voted on the levy at its meeting Monday.
Superintendent Melanie Stretchbery said the program will have a general operating fund balance of $7 million at the end of this year, down from $12.4 million in December.
The program has an annual operating budget of $27 million.
"We have no operating reserves left and our revenues are below our expenses," Stretchbery said.
The program's reserves fund account is empty. Those funds were transferred last year to the operating budget.
The millage will be in addition to the 6.7 mills from six continuing levies that will bring in an estimated $12.69 million this year. Those levies, though, are now collecting the equivalent of 4.7 mills.
The program gets 42.71 percent of its funding from local dollars, 42.14 percent from federal funds, and 1.78 percent in state funding.
"If Medicaid cuts come to fruition" at the federal level, "that will put us in a serious bind," Stretchbery said.
The remaining 13.37 percent is from state and federal grants.
Board member Martha Woelke asked what the levy would cost homeowners.
If the levy is approved, the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 will pay $161 per year; appraised at $100,000 will be $107; and at $200,000 will be $214, Stretchbery said.
"We've never had a time-limited levy," she added. "We want (people) to have a say-so periodically."
There was no consideration given to trying for an income tax.
There are no new programs included in the fiscal forecast, but it is anticipated the number of individuals served will continue to increase.
The number of persons served in 2000, when the last levy was approved, was 362, with 161 full-time equivalent staff being employed.
In 2013, the number served has surged to 841 with 215 full-time equivalent employees.
And the intensity of the needs of individuals served has increased as well, from those with trauma at an early age whose survival rate is higher but whose medical and physical assistance needs are intensified; to those individuals who are living longer and the needs of aging exacerbate existing conditions.
The program also is experiencing a growing cost in staff training.
Since a 2-mill continuing levy was approved in 2000, the program has added a Life Enhancement Options day, habilitation and older adult services, adult recreation, and a Bridges to Transition program that has partnered with area high schools for individuals between the ages of 14 and 22 who have a developmental disability and need assistance in getting the needed skills to obtain employment after they graduate.
Wood Lane had planned to ask taxpayers for more help in 2009, but has held off by eliminating the PERS pick-up for upper management staff members, eliminating automatic pay increases for employees (step increases), cutting two directors and two coordinators, and revising its employee separation policy.
"We're going to have to address the salary issues," Stretchbery said.
To help offset growing costs, the program may start requiring families and individuals apply for state and federal benefits which they are entitled to; instigate an official waiting list for services; stop paying for dental and medical services not covered by Medicaid for individuals residing in homes operated by Wood Lane Residential Services; revise health insurance coverage and drop spousal coverage or charge the full amount; and eliminate or reduce non-mandated services provided directly by the board.
The non-mandated services include the school and Special Olympics, Stretchbery said.
"We are one of only eight county boards that continue to operate a school," she added.
But the chance of Wood County getting rid of the school is zero, she said.
The board may look for private providers for other services such as Special Olympics.
The school program currently has no waiting list for the school and takes "anyone who applies." That could also change.
And the board could implement a policy requiring individuals being served apply for benefits. "We encourage them now," Stretchbery explained.
She said there is one individual now getting services that cost $150,000 each year and has refused to apply for waivers to help offset costs.
And to offset increasing insurance costs, the board might decide that if a spouse is qualified for insurance elsewhere, then he or she will either go off Wood Lane's plan or pay full coverage.
Board members had a planning session at the end of Monday's meeting to discuss strategic planning and goals, but no action was taken.