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Beaufort County Board chided

By By BILL SANDIFER, Special to the Daily News
WILLIAMSTON – Tideland Mental Health pleaded its case before its largest source of governmental funding Wednesday night – the Martin County Board of Commissioners.
At their monthly meeting, the Martin commissioners heard from Lynda Watkins, Tideland's area director, who provided a shorthand version of extensive presentations on state-mandated mental health reforms she has made to other boards in the five-county area served by the agency.
"We are looking at a train wreck," said Watkins. "It's a matter of when it's going to happen."
Watkins' comments were directed at new state criteria that will determine who is and who is not eligible for mental health services provided by some 38 agencies like Tideland in North Carolina.
Watkins sought approval of the second part of Tideland's local business plan that must be submitted to the state by April 3. In addition, she asked the board to approve a resolution that will put the state Legislature on notice that the reforms will leave many patients "carved out" of mental health services.
Watkins said most patients with severe needs will continue to receive state funding for services, but a significant number of patients will fail to meet the criteria for state dollars.
She cited the case of an 8-year-old girl, abused by her father, who would fail state guidelines for mental health support because of the so-called transient nature of the girl's disturbance.
Tideland, she said, is sitting on a "fund bubble" that will allow the agency to continue to provide care despite a lack of state reimbursement. "Eventually, though, that bill's going to go to the county, I'm afraid," she added.
Commissioner Ronnie Smith asked Watkins if the county is facing cutbacks similar to those made during the Reagan administration – an era when many patients who had been turned out of institutions, to be provided for in the community; they saw levels of care diminish when many local mental health providers suffered funding cutbacks.
Watkins characterized the state reforms as "more major" than Reagan-era cutbacks.
"I think some of our legislators don't know about this information," she said in asking for approval of the resolution to be presented to the General Assembly.
The board unanimously approved Tideland's business plan and the resolution.
After the meeting, Commissioner Mort Hurst threw the gauntlet before the Beaufort County commissioners, who failed in their March 5 meeting to approve Tideland's business plan.
"I don't think they should expect us to pay their way," said Hurst, who noted that Martin County, with little more than half the population of Beaufort County, contributes to Tideland about 20 percent more than Beaufort County provides.
"Martin County puts in more than anybody," said Hurst. "(Commissioner) Hood Richardson ought to be puttin' in his (share). We ain't gonna carry all them Republicans in Beaufort County."
Beaufort County Commissioner Jay McRoy said his research indicated that Beaufort County Hospital should be involved in the formation of Tideland's business plan.
In a 4-3 vote along party lines, the Beaufort County board, on March 5, decided to hold off on a decision until the commissioners meet with the hospital board.
With Hyde County the next and last stop on a five-county tour, Tideland is facing a tough, April 3 deadline, Watkins indicated.
In other business, the board voted to approve sending a Martin County Criminal Justice Partnership grant application to Raleigh.
"They're doing a real good job," said Commissioner Tommy Bowen. "They're doing a lot for drug addicts." The grant would provide $58,335 with no local match required.
In further business, the board voted to table a resolution recommending that Martin County require all property taxes to be paid before a deed can be recorded following the sale of property. This effectively would have required sellers to pay any delinquent property taxes to complete the sales.
Bill Sandifer may be reached at 940-4220 or by e-mail at news@wdnweb.com.