VENTURA & ORANGE COUNTIES: Supervisors Debate Spending of Tobacco Money
Ventura Country Supervisor Frank Schillo has proposed spending as much as $4 million a year of the tobacco settlement monies -- which amount to $10 million a year until 2025 -- on treatment and housing for the county's mentally ill. With an estimated 1,000 seriously mentally ill residents homeless, Schillo will ask the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday's meeting to use the funds to build more supported housing for these patients. According to the Behavioral Health Department, a local facility would relieve the "financial drain," including $2 million spent this year, on housing seriously ill people in other county facilities, noting that it would also allow many patients to remain closer to their families. Supported by the Mental Health Advisory Board and other mental health advocates, Schillo hopes to build a regional intensive treatment complex to provide housing, outpatient clinics, medical and substance abuse treatment and a mobile crisis response team. He also wants to overhaul Ventura County Medical Center's psychiatric inpatient unit into a locked, long-term facility and introduce a new psychiatry residency program through UCLA. Schillo believes a long-term plan with "lasting value" is necessary to stop "predictable turf battles" between city officials "over limited resources," and to ensure that the community's needs are met. He said, "If we do this, we can look back and say we built something of real value with the tobacco money" (Koehler, Ventura County Star, 1/7).
On the Other Hand
While Ventura supervisors discuss using their settlement on mental health, the Orange County Board of Supervisors "shrugging off" threats of a ballot initiative, "is poised to reject demands" that more of the county's tobacco money be spent on health care. Currently, the board wants to use the anticipated $912 million, allocated over the next 25 years, on "retiring debt and building jail beds." The Health Alliance to Reinvest the Tobacco Settlement (HARTS) has proposed a plan they believe will allow the county to meet its objectives, while increasing health care spending from about 20% to roughly 33%. But county CFO Gary Burton told supervisors that "key parts of the plan are 'not prudent.'" HARTS has warned the board that unless a "complicated, binding compromise plan" is approved at Tuesday's meeting, "its allies in Sacramento [will] proceed with a statewide initiative requiring all counties to spend the windfall solely on health" (Reed, Orange County Register, 1/7).