Cole: More mental health push needed

By Maura Wery

The executive director of Pawnee Mental Health Center told county commissioners Monday that while Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to retain $12 million in his proposed budget for mental health services represents a positive step, there remains more to be done to improve mental health services here.

Robbin Cole told commissioners she would like to see additional facilities providing intermediate care, a level that is higher than an outpatient mental health facility but with less structure and routine than the state mental hospital.

Cole said there are currently no such facilities in the area.

All three commissioners commented on the need for more mental health services, and they also emphasized a need to keep those who are mentally ill in their treatment programs rather than in the corrections system.

“If the leaders don’t have an idea of the mental health problem in these communities, their head is in the sand,” Commissioner Dave Lewis said.

Cole said it costs more to keep those with mental illness in jail than to get them external treatment in another facility.

“Pawnee is cheap,” commissioner Bob Boyd said, comparing its cost to the cost of funding correctional facilities.

Cole voiced concern for where funding would come from, and said she intends to provide commissioners with more information comparing treatment and cost in correctional programs versus other options.

Commissioners also heard from county counselor Clancy Holeman about a proposed property tax exemption for machinery and equipment. Commissioners fear that the votes exist in Topeka to pass it, and that the proposal could pose a threat to county revenues. The measure is opposed by the Kansas Association of Counties.

Boyd suggested that rather than attempt to modify the bill in the Legislature to make it more acceptable, the focus should be on fighting it through the judicial system. “Let the courts handle this,” Boyd said. “This is not beneficial to negotiate.”

Holeman agreed with Boyd’s position but said that since the K.A.C. assumes the measure will pass it might be “better to have some input than none.”

The commissioners also heard a request for purchase from Robert Nall, the county’s IT/GIS director, on updating aerial photographs of Riley County. They approved the request, but asked that Nall try to check with Clay, Pottawatomie and Geary counties along with Fort Riley to see whether a partnership would be possible. Nall said he didn’t have an issue contacting those counties, but his window of opportunity for shooting the photos was growing close. He explained that the photos are usually shot in February to avoid foliage on trees and bushes. Nall said the photos are used by many entities, including the city, state and the federal government.  He said he would report back either on Feb.1 or 4 with the results of talks with the other local entities.

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