SAC CITY, Iowa | The Rolling Hills Community Service Region Board expressed reluctance about a request from Woodbury County to join the regional mental health consortium during a board meeting Wednesday afternoon in Sac City.

The board declined to even take a vote on the county's request, putting off any decision until the board's next meeting on Dec. 20 or sometime in January. 

Woodbury County is set to withdraw from the three-county Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services agency on July 1. Since its inception, Woodbury has been part of Sioux Rivers, which includes Plymouth and Sioux counties.

The Rolling Hills governance board picked through issues about whether the move would be a positive step, in terms of services and budget for delivery of mental health services to low-income people.

But several Rolling Hills board members during the 90-minute discussion at the Sac City Community Center shared substantial concerns about adding Woodbury County, while one board member said there was at least one reason to take in the county. 

“There are a lot of things to be resolved,” said Rolling Hills board chairman Rick Hecht, of Sac County.

Woodbury County's recent notice that it planned to withdraw from the Sioux Rivers region came after years of disagreements that began sometime after the agency was formed in July 2014. Sioux and Plymouth county representatives on the Sioux Rivers board voted against Woodbury's formal request to leave the region at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, 2018.

Rolling Hills takes in seven smaller counties mostly east of Woodbury -- Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida.

The sole member of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors at the meeting, Jeremy Taylor, said Woodbury must separate from Plymouth and Sioux counties due to a poor working relationship, something he has routinely stated in meetings since summer. By comparison, Taylor told the Rolling Hills board, “We are impressed by your region, impressed by your governance.”

Cecil Blum, of Crawford County, said he appreciated such praise, but he is hesitant to make a change that could impact the rapport of the current seven counties.

“I am somewhat disinclined to accept someone into the agency that could upset the harmony,” Blum said.

Blum and Neil Bock, of Carroll County, shared grave concerns about Woodbury County expanding the region to eight counties.  Blum said the Rolling Hills region is made up of rural agriculture counties that might not mesh with Woodbury County, heavily urban by the presence of Sioux City, with a population of more than 100,000.

“Woodbury is just the 180-degree opposite…That gives me pause,” Blum said.

Dennis Bush, of Cherokee County, responded that rural people may think that mental health issues found in a metro area will never be their concern. Bush said, however, that rural Iowa is not immune from such issues, so it would be helpful to have the expertise of  mental health programs and providers from Woodbury County, as that spills into Rolling Hills territory.

Taylor shared criticisms of the functioning of Sioux Rivers governance board and, near the end of the meeting, appeared to also question its CEO Shane Walter.

“We want a CEO who has a good reputation within the state,” Taylor said.

Taylor added, “(The Sioux Rivers Board) are hoping at this point, frankly, that Rolling Hills doesn’t accept us, because they want to remain a region (of three).”

“I sympathize a little with Plymouth and Sioux counties…I believe they are fighting for survival,” Blum said.

Bock encouraged Woodbury County to “take your money and your services and try to make it work out” to remain in Sioux Rivers. Bock said the Carroll County Board of Supervisors recently discussed the Woodbury County option and “are pretty reluctant” to add the county.

Hecht was among several board members who raised questions about the possibility of not only Woodbury but also Sioux and Plymouth counties also seeking to join the region if Woodbury exits.

Hecht also said he was concerned that Woodbury County might not enter Rolling Hills with enough money to add to the combined region's coffers.

Taylor said Sioux Rivers board members are dragging their feet and not giving a clear summary of how much money Woodbury County could have on June 30, 2018, once all the fiscal year spending was done. He put the county’s ending year balance in a range from $825,000 to $1.45 million, with perhaps $1.23 million most likely.

“It would be irresponsible for us not to know what that (ending balance) is,” Hecht said.

Three separate votes will be required in order for Woodbury County to join Rolling Hills  -- one by the Rolling Hills governance board to forward the topic to the seven county boards of supervisors, a majority vote by those boards, then a final majority vote by the Rolling Hills governing body.

The state of Iowa in 2014 switched from a county-based to a regional method of delivering mental health services to low-income residents. The state calls such regions Mental Health and Disability Services systems, or MHDS regions.

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County and education reporter

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