RAVENNA -- After weeks of confusion and a lack of communication, the key players involved with the Portage County sales tax met recently to discuss progress on drug treatment proposals.

And all proposals seeking to address the substance abuse epidemic could be back on the table.

Denise Smith, civil division chief with the county prosecutor and counsel to the county commissioners, informed the oversight committee how each of the 10 proposals currently on the table could be funded. As they're currently written, some cannot be funded.

The proposals each compete for roughly $4 million of the $25 million revenue from the 0.25 percent sales and use tax imposed by commissioners in 2015. Roughly $13 million is being reserved to construct a 132-bed female pod at the county jail and another $5 million is being used to pay for increased sheriff deputies.

In May, the board discussed halting that review process and considered channeling those funds toward extending those deputies. There also was confusion about whether the money could used for capital improvement projects for non-county owned structures.

Based on state law, Smith said, the sales tax revenue goes into the county general fund and can be allocated to county organizations through service contracts. That would mean, aside from the sheriff and courts, programs funded through the Mental Health and Recovery Board like those from Townhall II or Coleman Professional Services would be eligible.

However, the commissioners officially pledged to use the sales tax revenue for treatment and prevention of criminal offenders, which would exclude funding programs that could help non-criminals. A repeal or revision of that pledge is needed to open the door for money to be spent on non-offenders.

Smith said that in order to fund any of the proposals as they exist now, all would need to be rewritten and resubmitted. Then the committee could recommend one or more to the board.

For example, a proposal from University Hospitals-Portage Medical Center to implement a case manager system for patients after they detox would need to be rewritten to channel funding through the MHRB and not directly to UH. The same must be done for the proposed countywide school program and others.

While the exact language of the proposals might not be ready for legislative action by the board, the concepts and ideas of the proposals are worth saving, said county budget director Todd Bragg, a member of the committee.

"We have never really even begun our work," said Bragg. "We finally got the proposals and that was a big step. We got through the presentations but we haven't sat down to discuss our thoughts about those. We've been distracted on all of these details about if we can or can't. Now we need to get back on track."

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

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