Although the airways, news pages and yards have been saturated with political ads, the appeal for renewal of the mental health levy for Seneca County has remained in the background.
Nancy Cochran, director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board for Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, has been writing letters to the editor to explain the programs and services that are funded by tax dollars earmarked for mental health. These updates fulfill a campaign promise that was issued when the tax was approved in 2008.
At Candidates' Night Oct. 24, Cochran only had about three minutes to explain why a renewal is important for the mental health board. That was barely enough time to list its responsibilities.
"Our mandate is to plan for, contract for and monitor and evaluate the agencies that provide treatment and prevention services for those individuals who suffer from or experience mental illness or addiction," Cochran told the crowd. "We're asking for a renewal of a five-year levy at 0.8 mills. This would be about $24.50 a year or $2.04 a month. This will provide those services that take care of those who are the neediest people in the county. This levy would only represent and treat people of Seneca County."
The newspaper columns and ads describe projects the levy has funded recently, including Family Intervention Court, Crisis Intervention Training, the Suicide Prevention Coalition, CARSA and LifeSkills. These projects were chosen based on data from the 2005 and 2009 Seneca County Health Assessments. The MHRS board also helped pay for assessments and that data was used to apply for grants.
At candidates' night, Cochran did not explain how her office operates with a small paid staff to oversee three counties. In an interview, Cochran said she covers Seneca and Sandusky counties as much as possible.
"John Gase, fiscal manager, represents the MHRSB in Wyandot County; he attends Child Fatality Review Board and Family and Children First Council as my designee," Cochran said. "We contract for independent program audits that many boards have staff to conduct. What we can't do internally, we contract. The MHRSB prefers to pay for services rather than add the fourth position on its Table of Organization during these budgetary times. Should we pass a levy in Sandusky County, we would look at the fourth position; however, that is a three- to five-year plan."
Cochran said the need for behavioral health treatment continues to grow. Unemployment, loss of insurance coverage, debt and other crises are affecting more people who have not had to deal with such challenges in the past. Many seek temporary respite in alcohol and drugs, which also can lead to domestic violence, traffic violations, theft and other offenses.
Cochran is urging Seneca County citizens to renew the levy on Nov. 6.
"Services would be significantly reduced should the levy not pass. The levy has made up the difference in state funding losses. While we can't add services, we haven't had to reduce, although waiting lists are being implemented as the need for services continues to grow," Cochran said.