In the face of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Service Region’s mounting financial difficulties, the MCBS voted to defer all transfer payments to the fiscal agent fund (which distributes money throughout the region) until the end of the fiscal year. In a special meeting of the EIR Governing Board on December 20th, representatives from all counties agreed to table a motion to remove Muscatine from the region.
At the MCBS meeting, Community Services Director Felicia Toppert shared that EIR documents showed only two Muscatine County residents accessed services through them. However, Muscatine County has paid more than $800 thousand to the EIR over its lifetime. When Toppert tried to get specifics on each user’s costs from Robert Young, Muscatine’s EIR service provider, she discovered their record keeping practices made getting this information impossible. She stated, “according to Robert Young, Mary Petersen specifically, she was told by the region to only deal with regional expenses . . .. Don’t break it down by county.”
Additionally, MCBS Chair Nathan Mather revealed that in a telephone conversation with Julie Jetter, Iowa Department of Human Services Community Systems Consultant, she advised her concern that if the EIR ejected Muscatine County before they could join the South East Iowa Link Region (SEIL) they could not spend any money on mental health services. “Her interpretation of the code is any time we are not in a region, we are not allowed to spend any Fund Ten dollars, meaning that if we were kicked out of the region, not only could we not provide any of the services currently provided out of Fund Ten, we couldn’t even make payroll,” he elaborated.
Though Mather asserted he did not consider this a valid interpretation, he and other supervisors felt it best to keep money available as insurance, leading them to defer making their requested transfer payment to the EIR. Out of consideration for other members of the EIR and to placate concerns that Muscatine County had treated the region in an untrustworthy way, the MCBS did pledge to pay as much of their transfer payments as possible on May 11th.
At the regularly scheduled EIR Governing Board meeting, tensions rose over Muscatine County’s deferred payment. Several members motioned for and approved holding a special meeting to possibly remove Muscatine County from the region, presumably immediately.
Throughout the course of the special meeting, representatives of each county expressed frustration with Muscatine’s decisions and the way their representative, Mather presented them. From these tensions, a common theme emerged.
In the face of mounting state mandates, the EIR has not funded certain services to stay solvent and protect existing services. As expenses from state level programs trickle down to counties, they make similar decisions, protecting their residents. Ultimately, all these choices stem from a desire to prevent service losses to vulnerable populations. As Mather put it, “the region is in a similar problem. We’ve more or less agreed to the position that we don’t have money for the children’s mental health program, even though we’re legally required to do it. We’re not doing anything, both to protect our budget and to protect our people. Well, that’s Muscatine [County’s] position.”
With this understanding, and from a concern for Muscatine County residents in need of services, the EIR agreed to table the motion to remove Muscatine County and seek guidance from each county’s attorney on the possibility of mediation with them over their exit and transfer payments. The EIR also approved requesting a transfer from Scott County not to exceed $885 thousand by the end of the fiscal year 2020.