• July 31, 2014

Coryell County officials have love-hate relationship with federal funds

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Posted: Friday, July 4, 2014 4:30 am

GATESVILLE — Coryell County officials have a love-hate relationship with federal funding.

The folks who run our county love getting federal tax dollars to spend on needed services — such as mental health care for indigent jail inmates — but they hate the meddlesome restrictions and regulations that accompany federal money.

Eldon Tietje, executive director of Central Counties Services, wants to expand the county’s participation in the federal Medicaid 1115 Waiver grant to include the hiring of three sheriff’s deputies trained to handle mental health cases.

Central Counties Services provides mental health services to five Central Texas counties — Hamilton, Bell, Coryell, Lampasas and Milam.

The Medicaid 1115 Waiver grant currently funds a mental health respite care center in Gatesville and provides legal help to indigent defendants with mental health problems.

At a budget hearing this week, Tietje presented Coryell County commissioners with a draft interlocal agreement to hire three mental health deputies through the federal grant.

The annual operating budget for the Coryell County Mental Health Deputy Program would increase over the next three years and reach $289,000 by 2016, according to Tietje’s figures, and the federal grant would pay about 60 percent of the cost.

The grant also would buy two unmarked vehicles for the county.

According to the agreement, Tietje’s agency would not “become employers of or take responsibility for the actions of participating personnel who will be employed by the county.”

But Sheriff Johnny Burks chafed at provisions in the agreement that he believed reduced his authority over the deputies.

burks wants final say

Although the deputies would be county employees, Tietje’s agency would be able to drop them from the program “with or without cause,” according to the pact. Burks said he wants final say on terminating his deputies.

Tietje said his agency is “100 percent accountable” for the federal grant money and must ensure the deputies meet grant standards.

The deputies would be free to take other assignments from the sheriff, he said, as long as they don’t interfere with their mental health duties.

“We don’t intend to be looking over your shoulder,” Tietje told Burks.

Burks also questioned a provision of the pact that stated the county would assume all liability for the “actions, inactions, errors or omissions” of the mental health deputies.

The sheriff cited a similar program in Williamson County where the sheriff had control of mental health deputies with no outside interference.

“Williamson County is paying for their program themselves,” County Judge John Firth said.

Tietje accepted a copy of the Williamson County plan and said he would revise the Coryell agreement to address Burks’ concerns while staying within the parameters of the federal grant.

Another expansion of the Medicaid 1115 Waiver grant, Tietje said, would add a project manager and three full-time support professionals to work with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a group home in Copperas Cove.

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