ALEDO -- Mercer County could help create more people like Jeffrey Dahmer if leaders keep cutting funds for mental health treatment, according to Jo Lawson of Aledo.
The long-time 708 Board member warned county board members recently that extra funding should be funneled to the group, which pays area providers for mental health and substance abuse treatment for Mercer County residents.
The 708 Board -- named after state legislation that created it decades ago -- has seen drastic funding cuts since about 1994, and members say they want the money restored.
``We realize the county is in financial difficulty, but where did our money go?'' asked Patty Stetson of Reynolds, the 708 Board's coordinator. ``Who is going to take care of people with substance abuse problems or the developmentally disabled unless there's a fund?''
A 1970s-era Illinois law gives counties the right to create a committee to help pay for the rehabilitation of people with substance abuse or mental health problems, and care and training for the developmentally disabled.
Voters formed Mercer County's 708 Board in 1976, and started giving money to local agencies for prorated services in 1982, Mrs. Stetson said.
Before the county's dire financial straits led to cuts in 1994, the board was receiving $130,000 per year to divvy between eight providers -- The Robert Young Mental Health Center, Mercer County Hospital, Mercer County Youth Service Bureau, Mercer County Family Crisis Center, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Rock Island County Council on Addictions, Warren Achievement Center and Transitions, Inc.
Now the fund only gets $36,000 per year to cover the same services for county residents. Luckily, the agencies accept whatever money the county can afford to give -- although Rock Island County's 708 Board gives more than $1 million to its providers.
``We just can't give our providers what we did previously,'' Mrs. Stetson said.
The county board doesn't dispute what a ``worthy cause'' the 708 Board stands for, but it wasn't deemed a ``necessary expenditure'' when funding was cut in 1994, county board finance committee chairman Dean Kernan said.
Officials attempted to cut everything on the county budget by 18 percent, but couldn't accomplish that. Instead, the county changed its tax levy, which directly pays for the 708 Board, Mr. Kernan explained.
``That was one of the areas we felt we could cut back then,'' Mr. Kernan said.
Officials now are preparing to draft the 1999 county budget. Usually all county departments ask for more money each year, but chances could be good for the 708 Board's request to get some attention though, Mr. Kernan said.
Mercer County's financial situation has turned around completely since those major budget cuts were made four years ago, he said. Mr. Kernan credits the Mercer County Jail for the surplus -- since the county began housing federal prisoners, the county has made more than $100,000 more than expected.
``Oh yes, we're a lot better,'' Mr. Kernan said. ``We were really struggling.''
Mercer County's seven appointed 708 Board members recently petitioned county leaders, asking for $70,000 extra this year. Eventually the board hopes to get its $130,000 back, Mrs. Stetson said.
Mercer County Board chairman Wallace Green was not available for comment.
The 708 Board meets quarterly to decide how much funding to allot each service provider, but historically has given Robert Young Mental Health the majority of the money.
The counseling center -- housed at Trinity Medical Center's West Campus in Rock Island -- used to receive $65,000 per year from Mercer County for its services, but now gets $7,000. Mercer County Hospital also receives $7,000 per year from the fund.
At one time, the Rock Island Council on Addictions received $28,000, but now gets $5,000.
Thankfully, the agencies have other sources of income, including state grants and money from other counties, Mrs. Stetson said.
``The entire amount we get now wouldn't fully support RICCA, which now has an office in Mercer County,'' Mrs. Stetson added.
Since her appointment to the board in 1982, Mrs. Stetson has seen an ``increase in need'' for such services in Mercer County and other places.
``All you have to do is see articles in the newspaper,'' she said, mentioning killing rampages and substance abuse issues. ``The need is great to help these people overcome.''
Others on the 708 Board -- including chairman Ethel Vandevort of Keithsburg -- believe the county board doesn't realize the importance of such mental health funding.
That is unfortunate, because it leaves the county without much support of the needed services, Mrs. Vandevort said.
``If you're not touched by this,'' Mrs. Stetson said, ``if there's no immediate correlation with your family and a problem, you don't understand, because you've never experienced it.''