In the news

County DD board looking for additional funds

By Justin Dennis, Ashtabula Star Beacon
Published Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities is seeking to expand one of its two 1.33-mill levies to 2 mills on next month's ballot.

The owner of a $100,000 home currently pays about $45 per year for the existing levy and would pay $70 beginning next year if the replacement passes.

It's estimated to bring in an additional $2 million per year for the board, which budgeted more than $6 million in property taxes for 2017, according to a recent county auditor's report.

But the board has been spending at a deficit since 2008 and projects it will run out of money next year, according to board Superintendent Anne Zeitler. The board's cash balance carried over to this year was a little more than $6,000.

With annual losses of state and federal revenues and reimbursements — which started piling up in 2004 and will total close to $2.3 million next year — and rising costs for Medicaid waivers and transportation, the replacement levy is essential to keep from cutting services, she said.

"We're just trying to maintain what we've got. ... We're trying to be as transparent as we possibly can," Zeitler said, referring to a half-page ad on Issue 3 featured in Friday's Star Beacon that makes the board's case to voters.

Making up the more than $2 million cut from the board's anticipated revenues are:

• A steady, $700,000 decrease in state DD board funding that began in 2004

• $400,000 in Medicaid reimbursements for infants and children, cut in 2005

• State reimbursements for public utility deregulation totaling about $150,000

• Other state reimbursements for the phase out of $1.1 million from the Personal Property Tax, which will be complete next year.

“We’ve done really, really well for what we’ve had for a long time," board President Andrew Misiak told the Star Beacon in August. "They’ve hit us pretty hard but we’ve managed to stay above water.”

To compensate, the board eliminated 49 positions through attrition since 2004, and changed salary and benefit schedules for new hires, for a savings of about $26.2 million. The board also worked with labor unions to freeze the Cost of Living wage and lower health insurance premiums for all employees.

Round-the-clock transportation remains one of the board's biggest expenses, Misiak said. The board currently maintains more than 30 vehicles in its fleet, along with 15 full-time drivers and more substitute drivers who travel about 500,000 miles annually, burning about 45,000 gallons of fuel, according to board transportation Director Jill Oliver.

County DD board drivers usually get started at 5 a.m. on any given day and sometimes finish routes at midnight, driving disabled students to community placement jobs, Happy Hearts School or the board's sheltered workshop AshCraft Industries, she said.

The board has worked to replace its buses with disability-modified transit vans or minivans, which are less expensive to purchase and maintain, offer about three times as much gas mileage and don't require CDL-licensed drivers, who are also more expensive and in short supply.

Oliver noted transportation is one board service that's not mandated through the state.

"But without it, our individuals would not get to work, school or to the workshop," she said. "So it is very needed and we provide that service throughout the county. ... We're in Conneaut, Geneva, we're down in south county all the way to the border of Trumbull County.

"We're all over every day."

The board's last operating levy referendum — a separate, 1.33-mill levy — failed in May 2003, 54 to 46 percent. However it passed on the following November ballot, 57 to 43 percent.

This article has been reproduced for educational purposes only and appeared in the Ashtabula Star Beacon. The original story can be found at:

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