The message at a Wednesday County Commission public hearing: Don’t reduce funding for mental health and senior services.
The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners must determine the levy amounts by Aug. 8. Last week the county’s Tax Levy Review Committee determined that the levies that fund services such as Meals on Wheels, home care and counseling for 30,000 county residents should remain at their current rate — an effective cut to their funding.
Property owners currently pay $77.70 in taxes from the levy on a $100,000 home. Maintaining the current levy would represent a reduction in funding because of declining property values.
Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls urged commissioners to make sure senior services were fully funded.
“When families have to make the choice between caregiving and work, that some families, without this levy fully funded, would have to choose not to work in order to provide care,” Qualls said. “That is a terrible choice to put families in the midst of.”
Doris VanLouit, who has been a member of the Sycamore Senior Center for more than 10 years and volunteered at the front desk, told commissioners that many seniors depend on the services funded by the levy.
“Sometimes the Meals on Wheels drivers are the only folks that these shut-ins see all week long,” VanLouit said.
“And transportation to the center is so vital because I see them come in … on walkers and canes, and this is the only social atmosphere that they get all week.”
The Tax Levy Review Committee recommended that the agencies receiving funding from the levies find areas to cut and operate more efficiently.
In a letter to the Board of County Commissioners, the committee said it tried to balance the needs of the service recipients with the ability of taxpayers to take on additional burden.
The Enquirer reported that committee member Dan Unger during a Monday board meeting said the committee was trying to protect “people who invest in housing and choose to live here.”
Mental Health and Recovery Services Board Chairman Thomas Gableman said creating efficiencies might not be possible.
Gableman said over the last 5 years there has been a 10 percent decrease in levy revenue, while there’s been a 16 percent increase in clients served over that same period.
“We operate at 2.3 percent administrative cost. When the Tax Levy Review Committee talks about increase in efficiencies, we’ve gone through that exercise over and over again — there are no further cuts in administrative costs,” Gableman said.
“When we start talking about cuts, it will be in services.”
Pat Tribbe, Mental Health Board president and CEO, said it would only require an additional $6 per year in property taxes to keep the board’s funding level.
The Board of County Commissioners plans to have two more public hearings on the levies before they vote — at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 1.
Ultimately it is up to Hamilton County voters in November to approve or strike down the levies.