Creation of a new arm of local government to process funding requests regarding the opioid crisis has been proposed to the Bartholomew County Council.

Council members informally agreed Tuesday to the general concept of creating a Substance Abuse Public Funding Board, as well as a related oversight committee, to initially hear such requests.

However, no specific proposals or votes were considered by the council as a result of the presentation made by Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development for the city of Columbus.

Ferdon made Tuesday’s presentation as a representative of the three major sponsors of the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County — Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel and Bartholomew County Commissioner chairman Carl Lienhoop.

“This framework gives ASAP one place to go to make their recommendations, not three or four,” Ferdon said. “We have to have a way to collectively consider how to spend our money.”

As outlined Tuesday, an oversight committee made up of what Ferdon called content experts would first measure a proposal’s validity, consider benefit/cost ratios, and determine how it might work.

Committee members could include Sheriff Matt Myers, Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde, a city administrator, a representative of Columbus Regional Health, County Prosecutor Bill Nash, an addiction services provider, and a member of the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress, Ferdon said.

The committee would then report its findings to the board, which would ultimately determine whether to recommend it to elected officials in local government, Ferdon said.

As proposed, the board would be made up of Mayor Lienhoop, Bickel, a member of the Columbus City Council, a Bartholomew County commissioner and a county judge. However, designees could be appointed to serve on both the board and committee, Ferdon said.

Although ASAP has researched potential costs for proposals, those estimates have not been presented to the three opioid-initiative sponsors, who have requested that such project estimates be released only when they are proposed, Ferdon said Wednesday.

During one-on-one or small-group conversations last week with Ferdon, members of the Columbus City Council have already given similar nods to move the general concept forward, she said.

Similar support also was indicated by the three county commissioners during a Dec. 7 public work session, she said. Discussions are appropriate but votes may not be taken during a work session, according to state law.

Upcoming steps

Now that the county council has been briefed, specific ordinances calling for a four-year agreement will be drafted for consideration in January or February, Ferdon said. Once the four years are up, city and county officials would reevaluate the ordinance, Ferdon said.

Much of the money that would be needed for the county’s opioid-addiction initiative is expected to be generated by an 2018 increase in the Local Income Tax approved by the county council in October.

It’s expected to generate $2,384,241 for a new public safety fund next year, county council president Laura DeDomenic said. Additional monies will also be placed in the county general and economic development funds, DeDomenic said.

Since the distribution of local income tax revenue is based on population, a larger amount of new revenue from the tax increase will be routed to the city of Columbus. However, the city council has not yet formally discussed how it intends to spend the new revenue.

Rather than the county council, it will be the county commissioners that will vote on creating the board and committee in 2018. But since the council controls how county tax dollars are spent, however, Ferdon said she felt it was important to seek their support and involvement.

“The biggest problem will be bringing the rest of the community on board,” council member Jorge Morales said during the presentation.

Two members of the audience, Chuck Doup and Mike Lovelace, said they felt creating a new arm of government indicates the community initiative is proceeding too quickly.

“You can’t move too fast when people are dying,” council member and former two-term sheriff Mark Gorbett said after Tuesday’s meeting.

The new board and committee, which would meet at least monthly, are conceptually modeled after the Emergency Ambulance Service Board created in 1982, as well as the Ambulance Oversight Committee formed in 2013, Ferdon said.

Funding framework

According to the presentation, upcoming proposals from the county opioid initiative will be guided by principles that include:

  • Seeking external funding sources where available.
  • No duplication of services.
  • A preference for evidence-based processes proven to work in other communities.

City and county tax dollars will likely not be sought to fund proposals involving education and prevention, Ferdon said.

Instead, opioid-initiative stakeholders will seek financial support from the Healthy Communities Initiative, private donors and external sources such as grant programs administered by state and federal governments, she said. A $1 million private fundraising effort began in October with a $500,000 matching-grant commitment from Mark and Wendy Elwood of Columbus. That campaign runs through March 31.

The county will likely be asked to fund potential facility upgrades at the Bartholomew County Jail. That would likely include an initiative to establish in-house addictions treatment for inmates in the older, unused section of the jail.

But Ferdon emphasized there are also state-administered funding sources, such as the Recovery Works program, that can and will share staffing and other expenses.

For staffing purposes at the jail and proposed treatment center, funding will likely come from several sources including the city, county, hospital and addiction services providers, Ferdon said.

Outside the jail, treatment and recovery projects will likely be mostly funded by the hospital, city, service providers and external state programs, she said.

What's next?

Attorneys for the City of Columbus, Bartholomew County government, and Columbus Regional Health will now begin conferring in creation of a Substance Abuse Public Funding Board and related oversight committee to consider proposals to address the opioid crisis.

The three major sponsors of the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County — Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel and Bartholomew County Commissioner chairman Carl Lienhoop — will participate in these conferences.

Ordinances and proposals could be ready for consideration by the Columbus City Council and the Bartholomew County commissioners as early as January or February.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.