Dakota Counseling's subsidy request sparks backlash from Mitchell City Council, as city funds more than county
“I pay county taxes, therefore, I’m paying for services at this institution to the county. I shouldn’t be paying for them through the city as well,” Council member Steve Rice said of Dakota Counseling's subsidy request.
While the Mitchell City Council acknowledges the work that Dakota Counseling provides to the community, concern with the city's funding for the organization has arisen at recent meetings.
During Monday’s meeting, council member Steve Rice said city taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the large amount of annual subsidy funds to the mental health group. Considering a South Dakota statute stipulates it’s a county requirement to have mental health counseling services available for people in their respective area, Rice questioned why the city is being asked to provide the most funding to subsidize the group.
“The statutory requirement for running these programs is a county requirement. As far as I know everyone in the city of Mitchell is in Davison County, and everyone in the city pays taxes to the county,” Rice said during Monday’s council meeting. “The mechanism of asking for money from the city is a broken mechanism. It’s a county requirement.”
According to the financial information Dakota Counseling provided to the council, it showed the city has doled out the most annual subsidy funds to the local nonprofit organization than all of the counties and municipalities that Dakota Counseling serves.
For example, the city provided Dakota Counseling with $26,250 in subsidy funds for 2021, while Davison County gave the organization $13,000, which was the second largest amount that a local government provided. However, Council President Kevin McCardle noted the county’s subsidy is less than half of the city’s, which he said shouldn’t be the case.
“I pay county taxes, and therefore I’m paying for services at this institution to the county. I shouldn’t be paying them to the city as well,” Rice said. “I just struggle with the fact that the request is coming to the city, and it’s a general fund request. I don’t get the comment that these services are provided to the city. … No, they are provided to the county residents. It doesn't matter where they live in the county. Everyone who lives in the county doesn’t live in the city.”
With the council’s discussion about the county’s role for mental health services, Davison County Commission Chairperson Brenda Bode emphasized the county supports mental health services in more ways than the annual subsidy approved for Dakota Counseling.
Bode said the “large amount” of funding the county provides to the Davison County Jail also includes mental health work, pointing to it as another way the commission supports mental health counseling in the area.
“We pay for all the services involved with the jail, and that $13,000 is an additional bonus to Dakota Counseling. The $13,000 is far from the only funds we give for mental health services,” she said.
Keeping up with mental health
Michelle Carpenter, executive director of Dakota Counseling, emphasized that mental health needs have grown in Mitchell. To meet the growing demand of mental health issues people are struggling with in the area, Carpenter said the subsidy funds are critical to facilitate those services.
“The city of Mitchell has grown, and the crisis has grown as well,” she said.
Carpenter said the subsidy funds are utilized for “crisis consults,” which she explained are scenarios in which individuals are suicidal and in crisis.
“Whether someone calls us at 2 a.m. and is threatening themselves or their family, we have someone available to handle that,” Carpenter said, noting those types of crisis calls can take from 30 minutes to eight hours.
The organization serves six counties surrounding Mitchell, but Carpenter said roughly 80% of the crisis consults take place in Mitchell.
Dakota Counseling also runs Stepping Stones, a treatment facility made up of counselors and mental health professionals who help rehabilitate clients, including inmates awaiting sentencing. But Carpenter said providing those services has been tough on her staff amid the pandemic, which has caused a nationwide spike in mental health woes.
“We’re struggling. The equipment to provide services and emergency services and the weekends and after hours is so taxing,” Carpenter said at the Oct. 18 council meeting. “Last year, our nurses helped deal just short of $1 million in medications for our clients. We were struggling before, and COVID-19 has made it more difficult for us.”
Council trims subsidy funds
Each year, the city reviews requests from local nonprofit organizations seeking subsidy funds. The council ultimately decides the amount of subsidy funds each organization receives. Like most of the nonprofits, the subsidy funds come out of the general fund, which is backed by sales tax revenue that the city collects, hence Rice’s claim that city taxpayers are funding a large portion of Dakota Counseling’s annual subsidy requests.
Over the past five years, the council has trimmed the amount of subsidy funds that organization has requested on an annual basis. Mayor Bob Everson said the cuts were due to the concerns that Rice raised involving the statute for mental health services being a county requirement, not a city requirement.
Although Dakota Counseling initially requested $62,000 for 2022, the council is proposing to trim that to $26,250. From 2010 to 2016, the city funded $62,000 in subsidies each year to Dakota Counseling. In 2017, the council began cutting the subsidy funds, which was reduced to $50,000 and has continued since.
“In 2017, when council started reducing the subsidies, it was because the increases were only being passed on as the city was giving at a higher level than other entities. At that time, the council said they wanted the group to go and seek out other governmental subsidies,” City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said at Monday’s meeting.