Sunday, March 2, 2003

Disability agencies brace

State funding cuts mean fewer services will be available

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - The projected funding for the Butler County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities will drop by almost 4 percent this year - mostly because of state cutbacks.

As a result, many of the agency's clients wanting to live independently in the community will not be able to.

The MRDD's waiting list of 200 people for placement in community living quarters likely will grow this year, said Dr. Fred Valerius, the agency's superintendent.

"We're not going to be able to serve as many people as we had hoped," he said.

The $1 million reduction in the MRDD's state funding this year also will hamper its ability to develop more options to relieve overcrowding in its adult centers and will kill plans to open more community team offices.

Many other county MRDD boards throughout the state expect similar cutbacks in funding as a result of the state budget crisis.

John Lazares, superintendent of Warren County MRDD, said he expects his agency's state funding to be cut by 4 percent to 5 percent this year, although he doesn't know for certain.

Hamilton County MRDD officials aren't venturing a guess about what its state revenue will be this year.

"We've had no notification from the state, so we don't know yet," said Jenny Dexter, agency spokeswoman.

Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox said the state is causing great harm to services for the developmentally disabled and other groups of people needing help.

"We're witnessing the dismantling of a social service system that's been built up over generations," he said. "We're seeing the shifting of the funding burden of these programs from the state to local governments."

In 2002, local funding accounted for 65 percent of the agency's total revenue, and state funding comprised 14 percent.

But this year, local funding is expected to be 65 percent of the revenue stream, while state funding is expected to be less than 9 percent.

"The state's been in a budget crisis before, but nothing like this," Valerius said. "I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

With such a tight budget, Valerius said, the MRDD board will have to examine carefully the services it offers and give priority to the most important ones.

"We have to figure out what are the basic services people need," he said.


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