Local centers face fund cuts, but no closure

Published 12:14 pm Monday, April 26, 2010

There will be change, but there won’t be closure.

Brookhaven’s three main state institutions will have to adjustto operating on yet fewer dollars in the framework of the $5.5billion budget for fiscal year 2011, approved early Saturdaymorning by the House and now headed to the governor to be signedinto law. Though pickings are the slimmest yet for the MississippiSchool of the Arts, the Mississippi Adolescent Center and theBrookhaven Crisis Intervention Center, the one educational and twomental health facilities appear to have survived a potentiallylethal $500 million reduction in the state spending plan.

“Managing within the revenues we have, it’s a mode of survival,”said District 39 Sen. Cindy-Hyde Smith, D-Brookhaven, a confereeand budget builder. “Of course there are changes to absolutelyevery state agency because they’re looking at cuts they’ve neverseen before.”

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Hyde-Smith said the biggest changes could be coming to MAC,which received $3.9 million in funding in the MississippiDepartment of Mental Health’s approximately $630 millionappropriation, a drop of about $500,000 from last year’s total.Mental health administrators have plans on file to deal withserious funding reductions at MAC that call for the closure of oneof the facility’s three dormitories and the transfer of one-thirdof the approximately 30 male clients who are treated at thefacility.

The possibility of closing one-third of MAC will save anestimated $600,000, administrators say. It is unclear how many ofthe approximately 90 jobs at the facility would be affected by sucha move if it were implemented.

“Nothing is definite that I’m aware of, but it’s very realisticto think that,” Hyde-Smith said of MAC’s contingency plan.

Hyde-Smith, who specifically works on the DMH budget, said MACwould likely couple the reduction plan with attrition, leavingvacant spots unfilled as employees retire or move on, to help bringdown operating costs and keep the facility open.

MAC is in perhaps the most precarious position of all the mentalhealth facilities statewide, as it is one of the only programs thatoperates on 100 percent general fund revenues and is unable tocreate its own funding with Medicaid reimbursements. MACadministrators are working to meet federal Medicaid requirements inan effort to being receiving the matching funds, but the process isincomplete.

The future is also uncertain for the Brookhaven CrisisIntervention Center, though major shortages and cuts at thatfacility are unlikely. The CIC, which is much smaller than theresidential MAC and performs emergency community mental healthcare, received approximately $250,000 less than in fiscal year2010, funded this year at $2.2 million. The facility employs35.

Even though Brookhaven’s CIC is funded and ready for the comingyear, deals may still be worked out to have the centers managed bythe state’s community mental health complexes, Hyde-Smith said.Discussions on such a transfer have not begun in earnest, thoughthe successful operation of the Grenada CIC by the local communitymental health group there has been an often-cited success storywhen the possibility is proposed.

The Mississippi School of the Arts has taken its lumps just likeevery other state agency and will be funded under the approximately$3.1 billion appropriated to the Mississippi Department ofEducation, Hyde-Smith said.

All in all, Brookhaven came out well in the new budgetconsidering th target painted on the city in Gov. Haley Barbour’spre-session budget recommendations, said District 53 Rep. BobbyMoak, D-Bogue Chitto.

“Whatever they cuts are, they’re better than closure,” he said.”The goal this year is just to keep your facilities. We could havebeen a lot worse off.”

Moak said the funding appropriated to Brookhaven’s three stateinstitutions should be enough to carry them through the fiscalyear, adding the Legislature could fix any mid-year problems whenit reconvenes for the 2011 regular session in January.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, agreed with Moak’sassessment of the budget. However, she delivered a warning for nextyear, when the fiscal year 2012 budget is expected to deal evendeeper cuts to state agencies.

“Next year, the stimulus money runs out. We need to start nowand be prepared to make sure this doesn’t catch us off guard,” shesaid.

Currie said she was also nervous that, even though theappropriations bills have been passed, the House is still insession.

Representatives were prepared to sine die and officially end thesession Friday, but a pair of appropriations bills were held on amotion to reconsider as leverage against the House leadership fornot allowing a bill that would prohibit federal funding forabortions to be voted on. If the House had adjourned the sessionthen, both appropriations bills would have died, making a specialsession necessary to complete the budget.