Commissioners Pass Mental Health Levy Proposal 2-1
August 4, 2022 by Brian Doering

Third time was the charm for the Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services, which received the green light from Geauga County Commissioners Aug. 2 to put a levy renewal on the fall ballot.

Third time was the charm for the Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services, which received the green light from Geauga County Commissioners Aug. 2 to put a levy renewal on the fall ballot.

Interim Director Amie Martin D’Arienzo appeared before commissioners Tuesday to ask them once again to approve putting a 0.5-mill, five-year levy renewal on the November ballot. Commissioners had previously tabled, more than once, renewing the proposal — questioning the need to put it on the ballot a year early when the mental health board has a $4 million budget carryover.

However, board Chair Steve Oluic said during the July 27 commissioners meeting a lot of those carryover funds are being used to address the housing crisis.

D’Arienzo said Tuesday the levy renewal is specifically for mental health service needs.

“I’m back again to see if you all would consider this levy, which is 100% services, to move forward and get certification from the auditor,” she told commissioners. “This 100%-service levy goes to servicing hundreds of people in the county with much needed mental health services.”

D’Arienzo said the levy is 25% of the total budget for mental health services and it plays an important role in helping continue that assistance.

“If we can’t get it on the ballot this year, we can’t count it in our budget and that puts our continuum of care at risk,” she said.

Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri was in attendance after having been absent for the months of June and July due to undisclosed health issues..

“In today’s day and age, we’re having so many problems because of mental health and it’s really difficult to not support these services because it’s just a real rough road that we’re going down,” Spidalieri said.

Commissioner Tim Lennon added it is critical to continue funding for mental health services. In his comments, Lennon referenced federal and state grants the board has secured, but which expire every two years.

“This a huge part of mental health’s budget that they depend on year after year,” said Lennon. “I think we’ve been fortunate that you’ve been able to go out and source these grants, but you can’t build a foundation or budget off of those grants. A lot of those grants are specific to certain things that you aren’t able to spend money on.”

Lennon added the mental health board needs to be very clear and precise with the public as to what their funds are going to be used for in the future.

“I think going forward, we have to be a little more transparent in what we’re gonna do with that funding,” said Lennon.

The levy request was passed by a 2-1 vote, with commissioners Lennon and Spidalieri voting in favor of it and Commissioner Jim Dvorak voting against it.

Dvorak said putting tax levies on a year early is permitted by law, but not a necessity or a requirement.

“Mental health has two levies — 0.5 mills that expires the tax year of 2022 and is collected in 2023, the other is 0.7 mills with an expiring tax year of 2023 and is collected in 2024,” said Dvorak. “Putting the 0.5-mill renewal levy on the ballot this year is considered a year early because it does not expire until the end of this year, placing the other 0.7-mill renewal levy on the ballot next year would also be considered a year (early) because that particular levy expires in the tax year 2023.”

Dvorak added it might not be wise to approve a levy a year in advance at this time with the possibility of a recession on the horizon, and that more will be known in 12 months.

“I’ll always support the people in need and the people that can’t help themselves, but I really think that we should take a pause only because the (Geauga County) Budget Commission made you guys take a cut in this mill,” said Dvorak, referring to the mental health board’s previous request, which included an amendment to temporarily collect at a rate of 0.25 mills due to an excess of funds.

“So my vote is ‘no,’” Dvorak said.

County Administrator Gerry Morgan said the next steps in the process will be for the county auditor to determine the amount of money that will be collected and certified, then another resolution will be presented to commissioners.

“Because of the timeframe of this, that paperwork needs to be into the board of elections early next week, so we will need a special meeting to approve that second resolution,” said Morgan.

The special meeting to approve the resolution is scheduled for Aug. 8 at 9:30 p.m.

In other business, commissioners approved the following requests from the county engineer’s office related to road improvements in the county:

  • Approval and execution of change order #1 (final) to Ronyak Paving, Inc. in the amount of $45,666 for asphalt resurfacing of Bass Lake Road (Sections A-C).
  • Unit price contract with Ronyak Paving, Inc. in the amount of $890,600 for asphalt resurfacing of Munn Road in Auburn Township (Sections A-C).
  • Resolution to order drainage improvements of Washington Street in Auburn and Bainbridge townships and setting a bid opening date for Aug. 19 at 2 p.m.
  • Notice of bid opening to be advertised on the county website on Aug. 4