Budget in the hands of state agencies

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Jan. 6, 2011 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 5, 2011 at 7:06 p.m.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison talks about how Texas' almost $24 billion budget shortfall will affect mental health services in the Golden Crescent.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison talks about how Texas' almost $24 billion budget shortfall will affect mental health services in the Golden Crescent.

Trying to budget with Texas' almost $24 billion shortfall is a challenging task for state representatives like Geanie Morrison.

Morrison, and mental health advocates of the Golden Crescent, discussed the state of mental health services amidst the budget shortfall at a breakfast hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Victoria chapter on Thursday. The breakfast was held at the Victoria County Archives building.

As state agencies look toward its legislators this session for fair funding, they need to also look within themselves to receive as minimal of a funding impact as possible, Morrison said.

"We have to look at making sure we keep those essential services," Morrison said. "We have to have your input."

In dealing with past budgets, Morrison has seen agencies just cut whatever percentage is being asked to be cut.

This is the wrong approach because cutting one service could lead to a "boomerang effect" of other services and agencies.

The budget cutting process needs to be looked at delicately and with a fine comb.

Morrison said she understands the criminal justice system and hospitals are directly affected by how mental health funds are cut and how services are handled.

"You're the eyes and ears of what's going on in your community," she said, addressing the advocates.

Don Polzin, Gulf Bend Center's executive director, remembers when Texas faced a $10 billion deficit in 2003.

The center, which had a budget of about $10 million to work with, had $500,000 of its general revenue cut.

"Our capacity to serve is based on finance," Polzin said. "If our general revenue goes, there is a cost shift."

Morrison and Melissa Hamilton, a staff counsel to State Sen. Glenn Hegar, were upset to announce that it is still too early to know how the cuts will affect the Golden Crescent.

The closest state hospital is in San Antonio and Gulf Bend's services currently service the most critical mental disorders, such as major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The center is trying to reach outside its target patients through newer services like Place 4, a counseling center at Gulf Bend that opened in November.

"Right now we don't have the answers," Morrison said.

The mental health community in the Victoria area appears to be growing stronger.

While Gulf Bend serves the public sector through a variety of services, NAMI offers family-to-family education classes in the private sector.

Also, the First United Methodist Church of Victoria helps through volunteers assisting people without medical insurance in whatever capacity they can.

Polzin is adamant the private and religious services will continue despite the outcome of the legislative session.

"I just hope we can maintain services," he said. "Our legislators in the room know they are going to be sweeping every nook and cranny."



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