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Editorial: Don't focus on bad DD PR in November

By Editorial Board, Ashtabula Star Beacon
Published Sunday, October 21, 2018

When voters head to the ballot box next month they will have difficult choices to make on a number of local levies. As always, whether someone can afford or believes in a tax is a personal decision, and we respect those hard choices. But, we hope, poor public relations skills do not factor into that reasoning.

Issue 2 is a seven-year, 0.5-mill renewal levy for the Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities that generates $483,000 annually and costs the owner of a $100,000 home $17.50 per year. It is not an additional tax. If voters decide not to support those with disabilities that is their choice and right — but we hope they will not punish a vulnerable population because the DD Board has struggled at times to communicate its message and mission.

We have been critical of the DD Board and how they approached last year’s levy campaign and the subsequent decision to close Happy Hearts School after the 2017 levy failed — as well as how those decisions were disseminated to the public. While we hope the board has learned from those mistakes, dwelling on them now only hurts the developmentally disabled population.

Some have criticized the DD Board for asking for the same levy amount while providing fewer services. But, obviously, the reason the board had to reduce services like Happy Hearts in the first place is because the current amount of funding no longer covers expenses.

Even setting aside Ash/Craft and Happy Hearts, the Board of Developmental Disabilities served 373 infants and toddlers in 2017 in early intervention through 1,600 home visits, transported more than 230 people to work week after week and looked into almost 170 allegations of abuse through the board’s investigative services.

All of this, as so many local issues do, comes down to increased state mandates coupled simultaneously with severe state funding cuts — even as the state sits on literal billions in a rainy day fund officials want to max out. All that so politicians can offer a minuscule tax cut — Gov. John Kasich is talking about an income tax break of little more than a dollar a week for someone making $60,000 — and claim fiscal responsibility while shifting the burden for all services to the local level.

The biggest obstacle, as we said in August, is that the Developmental Disabilities Board has a messaging problem. For as long as anyone in the community can remember, the DD Board has been identified solely with Happy Hearts and Ash/Craft. But their mission has changed over the years because of state mandates but the Board has been slow to adjust their brand. The Educational Service Center has taken over Happy Hearts — and thus there is an additional levy on the ballot for those children next month — and Ash/Craft is going to be privatized. What the DD Board focuses on now is Medicaid waivers.

Medicaid waivers are complicated, and just the phrase can make people begin to tune out and assume they are bureaucratic red tape unworthy of tax dollars. It’s a tough message to sell in the best of times, let alone now, but they are essential. Simply put, Medicaid waivers mean the county DD Board pays a significant portion of the costs for services to adults, including those who live at home rather than in a facility. If you believe, as we as a society did when DD Boards were first formed around the country, that the costs for these services should not rest solely on individual families and that we need to help those with disabilities, you support the idea of Medicaid waivers.

Being asked to do more with less from local voters on top of the state will cause a greater reduction in services — and that is something we think all voters need to understand and weigh carefully.

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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