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Archive for Sunday, July 31, 1994

July 31, 1994

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Some health programs received substantial budget increases in 1995. How did they do it, when others got nothing?

The tricycles outside are rugged. Their paint jobs -- Tonka truck yellow and black -- aren't snazzy, and a child once complained the trikes were too slow.

But they've weathered the wear and tear from dozens of children who come and go from the one story brick building at 345 Fla. called First Step House.

The women who live in the halfway house, often mothers, paid part of their rent in advance -- with each bottle of booze they once bought. They're there to get better.

The shelter is one of only a handful of alcohol and drug abuse recovery houses in the region that allows its tenants to bring children.

"One thing people fail to realize is when you're addicted and you're sick, your children go through that sickness with you," said one of the residents, who asked not to be identified. "It's important for them to get some treatment with you."

The city of Lawrence will ensure that a child specialist will stay there.

The house received a 134 percent increase in funding from city commissioners -- the largest percentage increase of any health program in the 1995 budget.

Of each dollar the city and county plan to spend next year combined, 4 cents will go to social service agencies providing health programs. In comparison, 6 cents of each dollar will go toward maintaining roads and bridges.

Several agencies didn't get as much as they requested, others got nothing at all. What makes some services worth more than others?

Commissioners say it's not a question of worth, just one of priorities and revenue sources.

First Step House was able to capture $25,000 partly because it didn't have to compete for property tax funds. The money will come from tax on alcohol, mostly on drinks served in clubs or sold at liquor stores.

"We've never asked the city to give us any general fund money," First Step executive director Lou Ann Holl said. "Cities are understandably reluctant to add expensive line items."

Of the city's $55.9 million 1995 budget, $380,000 will go to health agencies, or 0.6 percent. The bulk of that goes to the Lawrence/Douglas Health Department.

Mayor Jo Andersen said she based budget decisions on written requests that spell out where the money will go.

"That's not emotional," she said. "That's figures on a piece of paper."

The county isn't as blessed with alternate funds. Its special alcohol fund, for example, is about $10,000.

County commissioners set aside 13 percent of the budget for health programs. Almost half of that goes to the ambulance service.

One of the big gainers in 1995 will be Visiting Nurses Assn., which among other services, provides in-home health visits that help older people stay in their homes rather than in a nursing center.

Commissioner Louie McElhaney, whom other commissioners rib for his penny wisdom, was happy to approve a $16,000 increase for VNA.

The cost for each client VNA serves is $645 a month. The cost for a nursing home can be as high as $1,500 a month, with the bill often supported by tax dollars.

Valley View Care Home, the county-owned nursing center, received no county money in 1995 for the first time since its opening. Commissioners leased it to a private firm in 1993.

"It's a trade-off is what it amounts to," McElhaney said.

Commissioner Jim Chappell said he would have liked to cut requests such as energy-saving lights for the judicial building, rather than social services. He was on the losing end of a 2-1 vote turning down funds to two new agencies.

"Personally, I think it's more important to fund social services that help actual people," he said. "I'm not as concerned about recarpeting the building or an energy study."

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