At the Dec. 23, 2019 Muscatine County Board of Supervisors (MCBS) meeting, the three present board members voted unanimously to ratify the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disabilities Region’s (EIR’s) request for mediation. The mediation will address calls for Muscatine County to leave the region effective immediately and Muscatine’s decision to defer its fiscal year 2020 transfer payments to the EIR’s fiscal agent.
In a special meeting of the EIR’s governing board on Dec. 20, 2019, Mather first presented a request for mediation on behalf of the MCBS. In his written request, he cited that section 4.7(a) of the EIR’s 28E agreement requires mediation for major disputes. After consulting the Muscatine County Attorney, Alan Ostergren, Mather considered that this section of the 28E agreement required the EIR to enter mediation before deciding on a course of action.
While other members of the EIR showed a willingness to consider mediation as an option, they did not have a consensus that the 28E required it. For this reason, they requested that each member county review the request with their county attorney and have their board of supervisors ratify the request.
If a majority of counties ratify the mediation request, the EIR and Muscatine County will work through two areas of contention. First, they would address Muscatine County’s decision to defer their fiscal 2020 transfer payment until May 11 and to determine the amount of the payment based on the money they have at that time. Mather contended that waiting to make the payment makes fiscal sense for Muscatine County, as it will allow them to contribute to the EIR at a rate that will not prevent the county from continuing services and cash flowing, even if the EIR’s fiscal agent cannot provide them with any money.
“The response from the region has been, ‘hey, if you put it in and you guys need it back, which we would, then the fiscal agent fund will give you enough.’ Well, we’re still looking at a $600 thousand to $700 thousand deficit in the fiscal agent. Every other time transfers have been made back to a member county, there’s been money there to make the transfers,” elaborated Mather.
Not all EIR members agreed with Mather’s stance. Cedar County Representative Dawn Smith voiced concerns, saying, “this particular 28E states that if there is not enough money to go back, the cuts affect all counties . . . but, by you not putting your money back in, that doesn’t level out the playing field. It also creates a lack of trust when somebody does something like that.”
Mediation would also address when Muscatine County would leave the region. Muscatine County requested to leave the EIR at the end of fiscal year 2020 in June. However, several member counties desired to remove Muscatine early, particularly because of their deferred fiscal agent payment. After Iowa Department of Human Services Community Systems Consultant Julie Jetter reiterated the possible consequences of removing Muscatine from the region early, representatives agreed the issue required further discussion.
“If Muscatine leaves early, you could leave them in some serious financial hurt,” cautioned Jetter. “They cannot use the money unless it’s according to an approved regional management plan.” Jetter also added that removing Muscatine from the region could prevent them from levying property tax dollars for mental health because they would have no regional population to base their levy amount on, putting them at a disadvantage when they joined a new region.
In the weeks ahead, Muscatine County will learn if the other member counties of the EIR will ratify the request for mediation. At their Dec. 30, 2019 meeting (after this newspaper went to press) the EIR will consider reapplying to the Southeast Iowa Link (SEIL) Region.