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By Staff
Center consolidation is best move
Editor:
Kathy Sawyer, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, has proposed the consolidation of the state's four residential facilities for individuals with mental retardation/developmental disabilities. The plan calls for the closure of the facilities at Decatur (Wallace), Opelika (Tarwater) and Mobile/Daphne (Brewer). The 180 men and women currently living in those three facilities will be offered three options:
There is organized and vocal opposition to the commissioner's plan. Much of it comes from family members who don't want their loved ones to move from Decatur or Wetumpka or Daphne to Tuscaloosa. They complain that it would be difficult to get to Tuscaloosa to visit their family members. They also express fears that local group homes will not provide safe, supportive environments. And they contend that it would not be possible to get adequate support in their own homes — even if the state were footing the bill. They object to any course other than the continued operation of these facilities.
These family members are joined in their opposition by a number of employees from Tarwater, Brewer and Wallace who are, quite reasonably, worried about losing their jobs or having to transfer to Tuscaloosa. Finally there is opposition from some leaders of the affected local communities who see the closures as bad economic news for their communities.
To communicate their views these groups have held rallies, met with Legislators and set up phone banks. Needless to say, they have gotten the attention of the Legislators as well as the media. And they have given out the message that the consolidation plan will have negative consequences for some Alabama citizens and communities.
It must be pointed out, however, that FAILURE to implement the plan (or something like it) will have significant negative consequences for many more citizens and communities. If the DMH/MR cannot save money by reducing the $60 million plus spent on four institutions, it must save money by cutting somewhere else. And the only other place to cut is in programs which provide support to individuals with mental retardation who live outside institutions –in the community. The negative effects of cuts to community programs would be broader and much more devastating.
While the DMH/MR is supporting 300 plus individuals in institutions, it is providing support to thousands of individuals living in communities all around the state — including Decatur, Wetumpka and Mobile. While the average cost of supporting someone in a state facility for individuals with mental retardation is over $180,000 per year, individuals are served in the community for an average cost less than $15,000 per year. While Brewer, Tarwater and Wallace employ a total of about 725, there are many thousands of individuals employed in communities all over the state to provide support to individuals with mental retardation. While the 300 plus individuals living in state facilities are provided extensive support services 24-hours every day, there are thousands of individuals with mental retardation who receive little or no support services from DMH/MR. They languish for years on "waiting lists" for services like supported employment, residential services, etc.
As Alabama deals with its impending financial crisis, the failure to implement the consolidation plan will result in a significant reduction of funds to community programs. While the 300 individuals living in state facilities will continue to be served as before, hundreds more will see their services reduced or curtailed. While the 725 employees of Tarwater, Brewer and Wallace will retain their jobs, hundreds more will lose their jobs as community programs all around the state are reduced or eliminated.
While the economies of Decatur, Wetumpka and Mobile will not be harmed by the closure of the state institutions located there, they will join the rest of the communities in our state whose economies will suffer due to the loss of jobs for people working in community programs.
The consolidation plan offered by Commissioner Sawyer doesn't fix everything that needs fixing about Alabama's support for individuals with mental retardation/ developmental disabilities. But it does attempt to minimize the negative impact of the states financial crisis on one of the states most vulnerable groups. And it is fair — in fact, more than fair — to families of individuals living in state facilities. It is a plan worthy of our support.
I urge your readers to contact the Governor and their local Legislators to voice their support for the DMH/MR Consolidation Plan.
Palmer Bell
Parent of a young man with Down Syndrome and Executive Director, Tuscaloosa County Mental Retardation Authority
Councilman speaks on controversy
Editor:
I would like to set the record straight about "Cowboys" service station. Mr. Peebles came to the council during the wet/dry voting period. He told us it was going to cost $19,000 for sewer. He asked if we would help him if he came into the city. We told him yes. We have passed an ordinance that would allow him to recoup his money not only for sewer, but for paving the parking lot and lighting for the outside.
He told us if we would go ahead and give him the $19,000 up front he would annex into the city. He was told it does not work that way and he would have to come into the city first then he would get his money back through tax breaks.
He said no and if he could not get it up front he would stay in the county. This was after the election.
If Hartselle had gone wet, he would be in the city. But it didn't so he stayed outside and doesn't have to pay city tax on gas and can compete with the other stations around him. Giving business owners money up front is illegal. We cannot spend city money on a business located in the county.
The property at the interstate and Highway 36 was given to the city by the Burkhardts and we tried to make it attractive to businesses to locate here, but it was spent on city property.
I hope this will clear up some of the misunderstandings about Cowboys.
Dick Carter
City Council member

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