Stakeholders, Board Members Discuss Disability Board’s Finances

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It was standing room only Thursday evening as stakeholders and board members gathered at Beacon School to listen to and discuss concerns about Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ financial situation.

ACBDD Supt. Eric Young laid out a history and overview of services offered by the public agency, and talked about increases in expenses accompanied by “flat revenues.” He showed a fund balance projection that indicated the general fund might be $2.6 million in the red by the end of 2016.

Young said the expense and revenue projections are based “somewhat on history, and some are based on best guesses, like in regard to the labor costs. The levy comes directly from the auditor’s office and the Ohio Department of (Developmental Disabilities) gives us projections from their department and Ohio Department of Education.” The only wild card is Medicaid, he said, because it’s based on the number of people seeking services.

He said he was looking for input from those present — some of whom were clients, their family members, current and former board members, or concerned members of the public — about ways to decrease expenses and increase revenue.

Some of the questions and comments posed by audience members concerned privatization of the agency, which Young said isn’t in the cards at this point.

Young said that ACBDD’s new business manager, Steve Kramer, has met with Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson to discuss the budget situation. He added that they will continue to work together on a full review of agency services, participation, and finances, in the next few weeks.

Kramer said he was willing to be open and communicative during and after the review process. He invited members of the public, the union and auditors, to email or call him with any questions.

Openness of communication seemed to be a common concern among members of the audience. Margaret Demko, former board member, commented that one of the reasons she resigned was the lack of transparency she perceived from ACBDD.

“The transparency has always been an issue,” she said, adding that she was concerned about what Young said regarding best guess projections, “I would truly hope that no major decisions are made based on best guesses. I hope that we can find out exactly where those numbers are coming from. What are you spending money on, specifically?”

She asked that questions about finances be answered frankly and in a timely manner.

“I have always asked difficult questions, and I always will,” she said.

Christine Miles of Passion Works — an art-based program offered through the agency — said that she had not seen transparency in information up until last week, and she felt that the information now forthcoming is a “little after the fact.” She said that “without transparency for all of us who have given our lives and our time to this wonderful population, there’s no way we can know how to be helpful if we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

“We are family,” she said. “Yes, we care. Please keep us involved.”

Others at the meeting discussed worries about the transition to work program, though which students in high school who receive Individualized Education Program services are able to develop specific job skills, Medicare waivers, the continuation of various therapies offered at the Beacon School, and PersonnelPlus, a non-profit employment service.

Thompson expressed concern about the conversations she has had with people whose livelihoods or quality of life depend on ACBDD.

“There are a lot of people in this room that I have heard from, that the board didn’t call on tonight,” she said, adding that she has heard certain employees aren’t allowed to talk to board members.

“The very people who need to hear from them are afraid to talk,” she said. “Communication is key.”

“What I see lacking here is leadership,” Thompson said. “We should not be here this evening.”

She added that she has not received an accurate projection from the ACBDD in the last five years.

People are worried about losing their jobs, Thompson said.

“Please offer these people some security,” she said, “Please tell your board to reach out to your employees.”

Board member John Day said in reply that all board meetings are open to the public.

ACBDD provides an array of services, including the Beacon School, which serves students from the five Athens County school districts, as well as various other employment, job-training, arts-based, and integration services