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SIOUX CITY -- A regional center in Sioux City that monitors mental health patients has found itself caught in the middle of a contentious breakup between Woodbury County and the two remaining counties in the Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services agency.

The Assessment and Stabilization Center, commonly known as the Crisis Center for short, is managed by Siouxland Mental Health Center for Sioux Rivers, which was formed by Woodbury, Plymouth and Sioux counties in 2014 after the state switched from county to regional delivery of services for low-income individuals.

Since early 2016, the three counties have shared operational costs of the center at 4038 Division St., which offers short-term observation or longer-term housing in a secure setting for patients whose conditions don't warrant hospitalization.

But Woodbury County plans to leave Sioux Rivers effective July 1. Officials in Plymouth and Sioux counties contend Sioux Rivers would retain ownership of the crisis center, under terms of an agreement each of the three counties signed.

Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, who serves on the Sioux Rivers governing board, acknowledges the exit clause in the 28-E agreement but argues it doesn't apply in this case because the state has not yet approved Sioux Rivers as a two-county region.

Because of the same requirement for mental health regions, Woodbury County has applied for a state exemption to operate as its own agency for the budget year that begins July 1. That would allow Woodbury time to transition to the seven-county Rolling Hills Community Service Region, beginning on July 1, 2019.

Taylor argues a two-county Sioux Rivers also would not have sufficient funding to operate the Crisis Center, which costs an estimated $972,000 per year.

Don Kass, chairman of the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors and a Sioux Rivers governance board member, dismissed that argument, saying Wednesday Sioux Rivers is prepared to run the center without Woodbury County.

Kass noted the 28-E agreement "clearly states that if a county leaves a region, all physical property stays within the region."

Taylor "can cry all he wants, but that was in the (sharing) contract, and Jeremy knows that," Kass said.

Taylor pointed out just 8 percent of the center's patients are from Plymouth or Sioux counties. Once Woodbury exits the region, he said Sioux Rivers is counting on revenue from the $413 per day that Woodbury County would be required to reimburse Sioux River for each patient treated at the center.

Sheila Martin, executive director of Siouxland Mental Health Center, said she wants the Crisis Center under Woodbury County's control in 2018-19.

"This asset should remain with Woodbury County because over 95 percent of the patients utilizing the Assessment and Stabilization Center are from Woodbury County," Martin said.

"We are appreciative of the support of our Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in advocating for us. Siouxland Mental Health Center supports the move to Rolling Hills Region and looks forward to a greater level of transparency and good governance with Rolling Hills."

Taylor said Plymouth and Sioux officials have not even offered to reimburse Woodbury County for the nearly $296,570 in taxpayer funds it has invested in the Crisis Center building.

"Woodbury County has made overtures to fairly buy-out, engage in mediation or discuss the disposition of the crisis center," Taylor said.

In a meeting with The Journal's editorial board last week, Taylor said the dispute over the Crisis Center may need to be resolved by Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven. The director is scheduled to visit Sioux City and Le Mars Friday as part of the department's review of Woodbury County's application to form its own mental health services region.

ROCKY RELATIONSHIP

While there are uncertainties with how mental health services will be delivered to Woodbury County residents in the next year, Taylor said he expects plans to go smoothly and encouraged patients and their families not to worry. Others have criticized the murky future in Woodbury County, saying it is misguided to exit Sioux Rivers and also potentially leaving clients in the lurch.

Doubling down on his criticism of Sioux Rivers officials, Taylor said it is "absolutely" true that agency leaders are sowing seeds of dissension in trying to make Woodbury County residents worried about services after the July 1 breakup.

"The thing is that Woodbury County comes with a lot of ridiculous political squabbles, but we have done everything we can to deal with it in a good-faith manner," said Kass, who, like Taylor, is a Republican.

Taylor countered that Woodbury's pending departure "isn't about politics or petty personal problems."

"Woodbury County had a troubled relationship in Sioux Rivers because of poor governance and management...and a culture of negativity, as reported by (service) providers," Taylor said.

Connie Barrett, a Woodbury County employee who works for Sioux Rivers, said the breakup of the three-county region could result in a negative impact on services that would last for years. Barrett has attended multiple Woodbury County Supervisors meetings in the last several months to speak in the public forum portions of meetings to share her concerns.

Barrett, an advocate for 20 years for people with mental illness who have a court order to receive services, said services are working well and she worries about the uncertainties in what people being served might see in a few months.

"I am not being negative about about Rolling Hills. In the long-run, I don't know it is going to help...We may spend more money over there and have less services," Barrett said.

Sioux Rivers is directing $5.9 million in funds to agencies in the three counties in 2017-18. According to a financial summary, $4.3 million goes to providers in Woodbury County, which is by far the biggest county in the group, and roughly $800,000 each go to agencies in Plymouth and Sioux counties.

Another statistic shows Woodbury County this year pays 63 percent of revenues to Sioux Rivers, while entities in the county receive 73 percent of the funding.

Kass said the only services that could be cut in the next year within Sioux Rivers are those that are not so-called core services, or those required by the state.

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County and education reporter

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