Editor's note: Today, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services Chief Executive Officer Shane Walter present Two Views on whether Woodbury County should withdraw from or remain part of Sioux Rivers.
In light of recent events, I would like to make a case for why Woodbury County should remain in the Sioux Rivers region with Plymouth and Sioux counties.
Some background for those of you who are not familiar with the region: Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disabilities Services was born of legislative fiat in 2012, which effected a regional system of service delivery rather than a county-driven system. While resisted at first, the counties that comprise Sioux Rivers - Plymouth, Sioux and Woodbury - came together with a vision for services that took advantage of this model. Each county had exemplary services that could be expanded and replicated across the region, with unlimited potential for new services. What brought us together then - and, despite our differences, still binds us together today - is a common philosophy and compassion for people with mental health issues.
Sioux Rivers counties, Woodbury County in particular, are rich in exceptional, committed service providers who deliver a myriad of innovative programs. But Woodbury County’s decision to leave Sioux Rivers and join the Rolling Hills region places many of those services and providers in jeopardy due to the fact that Rolling Hills doesn’t place the same emphasis on programs that we choose to support. While that makes sense for that region, it isn’t necessarily a good thing for Woodbury County consumers and providers.
Among those programs and services which may face reduction or elimination in such a move are:
• Work alternatives grant program. A program that places disabled individuals into employment settings within their communities (nearly 200 placed in two years).
• Jail diversion program. A program which, when fully implemented, should have a dramatic impact on inmates with mental illness by reducing recidivism.
• School-based therapy services.
• Crisis assessment, stabilization and observation services.
• Transitional housing programs for men and women moving into the community from jail settings.
• The ARC summer program, which provides services to dozens of disabled children.
• Conservatorship program.
• Prescription medication program.
• Mental Health Court.
Furthermore, in a move to Rolling Hills, Woodbury County will not improve their circumstances; in fact, it will further erode, principally in the three areas of contention cited by Woodbury County board members to justify the motion to withdraw:
1. Levy determination. Rolling Hills determines the levy rate for each regional county, the same as is practiced in Sioux Rivers. However, the Rolling Hills maximum levy authority is $42.79 vs. the maximum of approximately $30.50 for Sioux Rivers, which represents a potential increase to Woodbury County of $833,000 annually.
2. Another matter of contention between Sioux Rivers and Woodbury County supervisors cited is that of control over staffing patterns, wages and benefits. While Woodbury County has exercised limited control over both in this region, with membership in Rolling Hills they will have absolutely no control over staffing patterns or wages - the regional board controls that entirely.
3. Finally, Woodbury County chafes at the notion that they do not have a weighted vote, that their vote is equal to that of the other counties that make up the region. In Sioux Rivers, that is one of three; they can carry the vote only by convincing one of the other two counties to join them, which has happened on occasion. In a move to Rolling Hills, Woodbury County’s ability to influence the vote will not improve, but will further diminish, as they will be one of eight. In order to win support for their viewpoint, they will need to convince four counties to support them.
In closing, I urge Woodbury County consumers, providers and taxpayers to raise your voices in opposition to this move and entreat the Woodbury County supervisors to engage in mediation with Plymouth and Sioux counties to settle differences as intended in the 28E agreement.
Shane Walter is chief executive officer of Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services.