County’s services board faces cuts

The price of Virginia’s low tax policy is a billion dollar shortfall for K-12 education and thousands of mentally disabled persons going without assistance, advocates told Richmond lawmakers Monday.

“We wait for families to fall apart before we help them out,” said Dan Goodall, a Richmond police officer and Baptist church pastor whose family pulls together to care for his autistic son. He said other families can’t do it by themselves.

Like Jennifer Peers of Chesterfield County –who brought her mentally retarded 5-year-old daughter Molly Jimerson along with five of her friends from the Girl Scouts to the joint public hearing before the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees — Peers said her familyrelies on a state-funded “MR waiver” to pay for home-based carefor Molly,as opposed to institutional care that can cost the state two to three times more.

But the state has nomoney for more waivers.

More than 800 persons statewide are on the urgent care waiting list for a waiver, and another thousand are not eligible fora full waiver but need services, advocates said. In Peers’ Chesterfield County, 310 persons are on the waiting list and 48 are on the urgent list.

“I don’t think the question is about money. You’re going to have people up here who want to talk about a nice piece of art for their library,” Peers said. “This is about life.”

Gov. Jim Gilmore before he left office last year added 150 waiver slots to the budget that Gov. Mark R. Warner and the legislature left in. Mental health advocates this year are asking for $4.5 million for 150 slots and $4 million for 200 persons with urgent needs.

“This is just for the people’s parents who die tomorrow,” said Teja Stokes, executive director of The Arc of Virginia mental retardation advocacy group. Many retarded persons are cared for by parents in their 80s so they are “only an illness, stroke or heartbeat away from a crisis situation.”

“Virginia really has no choice, this is the minimum,” she said.

Prince William County faces a cut of nearly $500,000 to its Community Services Board, which administers MR waivers, mental health services to the poor and elderly, and substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Tom Geib, director of the services board, said the cuts will be absorbed in a variety of wayslike outsourcing residential group homes for mentally retarded persons, saving the county money because private sector salaries and benefits are less than those for county employees.

For service board outpatient services to other types of clients,like the elderly and those addicted to drugs or alcohol,the wait for appointments will grow longer because of cuts in positions and hours, he said in December.

For example, 1.5 therapist positions are being proposed to be eliminated by the county, with 150 fewer clients served, and only 40 percent of persons getting an appointment within 21 calendar days instead of 50 percent.

On education issues, speakers at the hearing kept referring to an estimatethe legislature’sown watchdog committee came up with: The state is $1 billion short of its legal obligation to fund K-12 education.

“Yet some of you are trying to undermine public education,” said Ellen Oppenheim of Fairfax representing RENEW, a statewide coalition seeking help for school building. She said bills to underwrite private tuition fees for students at overcrowded public schools and to limit real estate tax increases by localities their only method to raise revenue — will hurt public schools’ ability to expandfor growth.

In other General Assembly action:

— Prince William Delegate Robert Marshall, R-13th District, introduced a bill for the House to come up with a formal process for complaints from citizens about its members to be received. Last year, Republican Speaker S. Vance Wilkins of Amherst resigned over sexual harassment allegations. The House has no code of conduct, nor gave the woman a means of complaint, said Marshall and co-sponsor Delegate Thelma Drake, R-87th District.

— Parents who want closure and acknowledgement of a stillbornchild would get birth certificates for the lost baby. The “Missing Angel” bill is sponsored by Delegate Kathy J. Byron, R-22nd District.It is modeled after other states’ legislation.

— Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District, has introduced a bill to limit the state’s requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets to those under 21 years old. His bill only allows a citation to be made if the motorcyclist is stopped for another reason. Last year a similar measure died on the House floor 51-45.

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