Linn Supervisors Plan Study of Options Workshop Funding

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Linn County Supervisors plan to appoint a task force Monday to look into the long term funding needs for Options of Linn County.

Options opened nearly 45 years ago as a sheltered workshop providing both training and employment opportunities for those with disabilities. It remains the only county-operated vocational and pre-vocational service for those with disabilities in Iowa.

Jim Nagle, Options of Linn County director, said there is no immediate crisis prompting the discussion by supervisors this Monday. But there are disturbing trends in federal funding cuts that supporters want to look at now rather than after getting into a financial crisis situation later.

"What we're trying to get ahead of is the timeline. We want to be proactive so there isn't a (funding) surprise. We want people to know we're safe, we're ok. But we want to make sure down the road the funding is stable," Nagle said.

Brent Oleson, Linn County Supervisor, said it was his idea to go public with some of the possible future concerns about the Options program now rather than get "blind-sided" by funding cutbacks in the near future.

The county provides space for the 200 people in the various Options programs at the county's new Community Services Building. Workshop employees receive a "piece rate" pay based on ability in doing clerical, packaging and small assembly jobs for approximately 40 local companies. Nagle said any changes in the "sub" minimum wage exception give to such workshops could dramatically impact the bottom line.

But the majority of the $4 million yearly operating budget comes from Title 19 federal payments made on behalf of the workers to fund the services. The county, by state law, would be unable to significantly close any future funding gaps should federal reimbursement rates dramatically drop.

Supervisor Oleson said the funding sources are different, but he sees similarities with what happened at the Abbe Center this summer. Funding shortfalls because of changes in reimbursement for clients with mental disabilities kept piling up. Eventually, the Abbe Center made a sudden decision to close the inpatient mental health facility on County Home Road.

"I felt like we were caught flat-footed with the Abbe Center and what happened to its funding stream and eventual demise, as we knew it, and I don't want that to happen to Options," Oleson said.

He called Options the premier county social program and wouldn't want anything to detract from its success over the years.

Oleson envisions appointing a number people to the task force on Monday including those who work with clients, other nonprofit group members and union leaders who represent county workers. He said the goal would be to come up with a report and suggestions for county leaders by the end of the year.
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