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Mental health funding tabled; city budget passes 3-2

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Consideration of the City of Delta's 2018 budget continued last week as council members weighed funding requests from All Points Transit, Partners and the Center for Mental Health. The city previously approved $50,000 for Delta County Economic Development, $3,000 for the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce, $1,000 for HopeWest and funding for fireworks, grad night, Boy Scout flags and the health fair.

All Points Transit's funding request of $17,318 was unchanged from 2017.

From January through August 2017, All Points Transit delivered 7,002 Dial A Ride trips in Delta County. Of those trips, 47 percent were medical trips, 35 percent were for nutrition and 18 percent were personal trips.

Council members agreed to maintain funding, with council member Christopher Ryan pointing out many of those trips were to Delta for doctor's appointments and for shopping, both of which help boost the local economy.

The request for $2,000 from Partners, new for 2018, was approved with little discussion, but another new request, from the Center for Mental Health, was the topic of considerable debate.

A letter addressed to city council members outlined the center's plans for a crisis clinic that will be located in Montrose, but will serve a six-county area. Across the region, mobile crisis teams will be available to respond to individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis and to connect individuals with the crisis clinic as needed.

Funding from the City of Delta and other municipalities is needed to help fund the operation of that clinic, the letter further stated. Based on a formula of 50 cents per resident, the Center for Mental Health is seeking $4,457 from the city.

After a brief discussion, council members turned to Chief Luke Fedler for input. The Delta Police Department is participating in a task force that's working to develop a collaborative approach to mental health crises.

Despite the efforts of the task force, the chief said he has "serious concerns" about the way behavioral health crises are being handled in the city.

He cited a specific incident which had occurred just a few days previously. A third party contractor was transporting a mentally ill individual from Montrose to Grand Junction. That individual became unruly, and the firm hired to handle transport determined the situation was beyond their capabilities. Delta Police Department officers were summoned to the scene. Attempts to contact mental health professionals -- on the weekend and after hours -- were unsuccessful. "We could not find anyone to help," Chief Fedler said. "We don't have that choice; we can't not answer our phone."

He said the police department does not have the funding, nor the training, to respond to such situations.

After several phone calls, the individual was finally placed in the Delta County Jail, but after Jan. 1 that option is off the table. A new state law prohibits incarceration of an individual in crisis unless criminal charges have been filed.

Fedler continued, "We understand we're the first responders, but we're concerned we'll also be the final responders."

His concerns were echoed by Tom Huerkamp, president of the board of directors of the Delta County Ambulance District.

"We need the Center for Mental Health, but we need it to work. We need to know what the plan is to deal with this situation," Fedler said.

Council members have supported the remodel of the center's facility in Delta, but decided to take the current request under advisement.

Later during the Nov. 21 meeting, a public hearing on the 2018 budget was held. No comments were voiced and the council moved to adoption of the 2018 budget, which was the topic of two work sessions. Council member Gerald Roberts said those work sessions came "late in the game," and did little to shed light on city expenditures. Other than a statement from city manager David Torgler that there will be no cuts, and no additions, in 2018 "that's about all I know about this budget," Roberts said.

Council member Bill Raley said it's clear the city is not in as good a position financially as it should be.

"We'll be okay," Mayor Ed Sisson responded. "It will be tough, but we'll be okay."

Council member Christopher Ryan felt the council did not have sufficient time to run through details, not only during the work sessions, but earlier in the year as well. With votes of "nay" from him and Roberts, the budget was approved on a 3-2 vote.

The split vote continued with the motion to approve 2018 appropriations. The budget is balanced, but will require the transfer of enterprise funds to remain in the black. Council member Bill Raley, who is completing his last term in office, said it is incumbent on city staff and council members to figure out how to reverse the current trend.

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