Upcoming Morrow DD levy imperative to operations
By Nancy Foglesong, Superintendent, Morrow County Board of DD –
The Morrow County Board of Developmental Disabilities faces a fiscal emergency that threatens the services the board offers in potentially devastating ways. I would like to share an update for the community on the agency’s current status.
Past actions that have allowed us to “maintain” operations involved budget and staffing reductions and included temporary assistance from the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Many people may not know that Morrow County has been the only county to need this assistance, and approval was based on the results of an extensive operations and financial review which provided no recommendations for reductions or improvements. Federal stimulus and one-time grants also helped; however, no budget can survive on incidental funds. While these actions helped to sustain some services and give the appearance that operations continued, many services were suspended: Early Intervention, speech, occupational, physical and recreational therapies, and community employment support services. Sadly, these aren’t just services that were lost. This loss represents countless Morrow County residents whose lives were and continue to be adversely affected, in some cases permanently. Waiting lists have continually grown, with over 150 individuals waiting for residential support services. Our workshop could serve 120 adults and yet we can only fund services for less than 80. Each year 40–50 children are born with delays and have no hope for desperately needed early intervention services. Board members and staff are rightfully concerned about the future of services for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Many families waiting for desperately needed services worry what it will take to secure the future for current and new families touched by developmental disabilities. The lack of local support is doing a grave injustice to Morrow County people with disabilities, and many residents might not understand the Board’s function and how it operates. This issue is about people, not an agency, not a board, not employees.
History teaches us lessons and unless we learn from our past, we often make the same mistakes. Each group of people who are “different” from others unfortunately endures a struggle to gain acceptance in our communities. It does not take much to see how Morrow County is different. We need only to look at other counties and see how they support their neighbors with disabilities. Residents there enjoy community involvement and gainful employment; they’re paying taxes and experiencing all that life has to offer. We at DD believes we want the same opportunities for our county, but wonder what’s holding us back? Is it past mistakes of the board, a lack of understanding the real need, inadequate information, or another excuse? It’s time for everyone to stand up, speak out and save this priceless county service.
For those who still struggle with the decisions of past administrations, I can address some of the persistent rumors and misconceptions, but want everyone to understand that harboring ill feelings does not and cannot punish those administrators from the past. It does continue to deeply hurt the people who deserve it the least: your neighbors with disabilities.
One misconception is that the county board “sent” many children into the public schools. Perhaps better communication was needed before and during this transition. But the changes that occurred in Morrow County were happening everywhere in our wonderful country. Why? Because many people believed in an equal opportunity for public education, and believed we can learn more from each other in an inclusive environment. Federal and state laws were passed and families made the best decisions they could, choosing the opportunities for “mainstreaming” their children into the public schools. Around the same time, state grants were made available to improve facilities. Morrow County took advantage of a 90% state funded grant. Again, perhaps better communication was needed, but the outcome for Morrow County is a wonderful building that houses a variety of services for children.
Yes, children still receive services at the center on Bank Street. By sharing our building, several agencies provide services to children in a safe environment designed for children. No, we don’t have a pool, but results of a county-wide energy analysis found our building to be one of the most efficient of all county buildings.
The Board has recently taken another opportunity to get safety and security updates for the building through another 90% state-funded grant. Morrow County is very fortunate to capture these grants. Have you taken the time to visit this building? We believe you will be pleasantly surprised!
So what happened to the Board’s financial structure? To summarize a long, painful history: with the loss of favorable community support through the changes in public education of students with disabilities, the renewal attempts of two five-year levies failed, and at the end of 2002, only a minimal 1.5 mill continuing levy remained in effect. The local tax support of 5.5 mills was lost and could never be regained without pursuing “new” funds.”
Morrow County has the lowest voted millage in the state. Inadequate local funding creates even a greater financial blow, with local funds being needed as “match” to draw federal funds. The need of funding to continue current services is critical. The Board cannot continue to sustain our current services without the passage of this REPLACEMENT + levy.
We’ve made significant changes in administration, the implementation of collaborative and efficient operations, and increased public relation efforts to improve awareness within our wonderful county. However, the Board of DD continues to struggle with many challenges and really needs the community to help by standing up for individuals with developmental disabilities, by sharing the value of these desperately needed services and by assuming our social responsibility for a wonderful group of people whose lives could be forever changed with just a helping hand, a caring voice and a compassionate heart.
It’s time to open your hearts and minds and keep working until we make the one change that is desperately needed: local support of our most precious people! Change will happen. Will it be what we want it to be?
– Written with deepest respect for individuals with disabilities.