Supervisor Mark Beardmore
Supervisor Mark Beardmore
May 13, 2013

Carroll County Supervisor Mark Beardmore, a fierce advocate for the county's independence in providing mental-health services, unleashed a withering attack Saturday on Gov. Terry Branstad's unfolding alternative to Medicaid expansion, arguing that it would "scoop" up county reserves and jeopardize care for hundreds of people locally.

"These are the people that are the most vulnerable and can't help themselves in terms of mental health," Beardmore said. "Tell me you are not going to let this happen."

Beardmore was one of about 30 people to attend the Carroll Chamber of Commerce legislative forum at Des Moines Area Community College's local campus. The one-hour session, facilitated by Carroll Community Schools Superintendent Rob Cordes, involved more questions from the audience than any previous ones this year.

Beardmore urged State Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, and State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, to protect Carroll County's funding stream for mental health as the state implements a redesign with forced regions.

As of the end of March, Carroll County had $2.9 million in reserves for mental-health services. The county expects to spend $1.3 million on mental-health services for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Carroll County has maintained the robust reserves for such services, and supervisors don't want to see that money, built over years, used to lift any economically troubled counties in a region Carroll could be forced to join. The Board of Supervisors recently voted to file a request for an exemption from mental-health regionalization with the Department of Human Services.

Branstad's Healthy Iowa plan would raid county's mental-health funds - what Beardmore repeatedly referred to as a "scoop." State Rep. Dave Heaton, a Mount Pleasant Republican, has expressed similar concerns.

Beardmore said Carroll County could end up with $370,000 less annually for mental-health services if legislators support Branstad's plan.

"What's next? Are you going to scoop the rural-services levy for the DOT, take money out of our road system for your highways to nowhere?" Beardmore said, referencing the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Beardmore, who has spoken personally to the governor about the state's mental-health plans, said he sees the situation as precedent-setting with statehouse overreach into local affairs.

"You guys are becoming Big Brother in this. And you don't want to be Big Brother," Beardmore said. "We've got one of those that we can't deal with the way it is."

Segebart said he would be working with other like-minded legislators to prevent the taking of county dollars for a collective state mental-health system.

For his part, Muhlbauer joins other Democrats in supporting Medicaid expansion - the alternative Branstad is seeking to avoid with his tailored plan.

"I'm not saying Medicaid expansion is perfect, but it's the best option," Muhlbauer said.

St. Anthony Regional Hospital CEO Ed Smith pointed out that Medicaid expansion is not limited to mental health. He wants to see a discussion of more equitable Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals like St. Anthony - a Catholic, not-for-profit that won't turn away patients.

Further, Smith, a member of the Carroll Area Development Corp. and former Carroll mayor, said lawmakers should be working on boosting the economy and developing aggressive strategies to get people off government programs and into private-sector jobs.

"We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country," Smith said.

Carroll County's unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in March ranked as the second-lowest of Iowa's 99 counties, trailing only Lyon County in the far northwest corner of the state.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, the state's unemployment rate for March dropped to 4.9 percent from 5 percent in February.

On other issues:

- Muhlbauer said he is working intently on securing funding to reopen the Workforce Development office in Denison and others that were recently shuttered. Many western Iowans have to drive too far for the job services, he said.

- Segebart said he is supporting a Senate GOP plan that would require proof of identification for voters at precincts on Election Day. "Voter fraud in Iowa is a growing concern," Segebart said.

- Both legislators addressed the property-tax-reform debate. Segebart supports an Iowa House Republican plan that would, among other things, reduce the commercial and industrial property-tax rate 5 percent over each of the next four years to 80 percent of taxable valuation. Such property is now taxed at 100 percent.

A Senate version would provide up to $250 million in tax credits aimed at smaller businesses. Muhlbauer backs that plan, saying that it effectively targets the use of tax breaks.

Segebart predicted a break in the stalemate this coming week with what he expected to be a "hybrid" plan, hinging on the Democrats' tax credits.

Muhlbauer was not as confident, noting that Senate-House conferees have done little in recent weeks.

"They're just sitting there doing nothing," Muhlbauer said.

- Carroll County Attorney John Werden urged the lawmakers act on parole eligibility for juveniles who are sentenced to life without parole. In the absence of legislative action, the courts will take up the issue, said Werden, president of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled as unconstitutional life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders. Werden said lawmakers can use their authority on parole guidelines or place the matter with the courts.

- Segebart said any action on a potential increase in the state's gas tax - which he advocates - is "hanging in limbo."