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Dispatch: Franklin County ADAMH board seeks increased tax levy Nov. 3

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Rita Price
Sept 30, 2020

As demand for mental-health services and addiction treatment continues to soar, Franklin County voters are being asked to approve a property tax increase for the public agency that helps to fund such care.

The existing 2.2-mill levy for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County has not been raised in about 15 years, according to the county. In that time, an epidemic of opioid addiction has taken root in central Ohio and throughout the nation.

The COVID-19 outbreak also has ushered in new crises and stresses that further illuminate gaps in care, said Erika Clark Jones, CEO of the ADAMH board.

“The need is real,” she said. “I do believe the millage increase is an appropriate ask.”

The issue on the Nov. 3 ballot is a renewal of the board’s existing five-year, 2.2-mill levy, plus an additional 0.65 mill. Combined, the 2.85 mills would generate about $81 million annually and cost homeowners about $83 annually per $100,000 of home value — $60 for the current levy and $23 for the new millage.

The existing tax expires at the end of December 2021.

Officials say the levy is crucial to maintaining service levels and beginning to work toward expanded options for the Columbus area.

For example, the board bought property last year and plans to open a mental health and addiction crisis center to help people in immediate need of care. At present, the bulk of those front-door services are provided by hospitals when people show up in emergency rooms, and by Netcare Access on the West Side.

“We have an opportunity to change how we do things,” Jones said. “If the levy passes, part of that would go toward the crisis center.”

But the ADAMH board has not yet released estimates for construction and operating costs for the center, which would include a walk-in clinic, an observation unit and 16 inpatient beds.

Asked about other funding, Jones said local hospitals will be involved. “Every hospital is around the table on this crisis center,” she said. “They absolutely are in for the capital support. All of us have a stake in the game.”

With an annual budget of about $111 million, the ADAMH board provides funding to dozens of behavioral-health organizations and programs that serve Franklin County residents. Three years ago, the agency invested about $7 million in Maryhaven’s Addiction Stabilization Center, a 55-bed facility on the South Side.

The center opened in 2018 to provide immediate care and addiction treatment to overdose victims and has treated more than 6,400 patients.

The Maryhaven center also added an intake option in August that allows people to walk in rather than arrive by emergency medical transport.

The new process drew approximately 300 people during the first few weeks, Adam Rowan, Maryhaven’s chief operating officer, said in an email.

“The need for expanded treatment is very clear,” he said. “Passage of the ADAMH levy plays a critical role in our ability to meet the growing need.”

Although overdose deaths have declined in many areas around the state, that hasn’t been the case in Franklin County, where the 476 deaths in 2018 marked a 52% increase from 2016.

According to the county’s Human Services Levy Review Committee report on the ADAMH ballot request, overdose deaths this year through this April were up 50% over last year and included 62 in April alone.

Jones said those numbers “hurt” and “enhance the sense of urgency” to do more.