Governor’s budget: No money to replace van

January 31, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on Thursday questioned a budget request by a state agency that manages a troubled residential treatment center for people with severe disabilities and mental illness, and in particular two vehicles the agency wants to replace.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Services for the Developmentally Disabled made its request to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

The request for $32.3 million for fiscal year 2020 is about 1 percent less than the previous year. Gov. Brad Little recommended slightly more in his budget for the agency, but replaces only one of the vehicles.

The agency runs the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa. State auditors last week reported that the residential treatment center for people with severe disabilities and mental illness or other issues is rife with systemic problems leading to trauma for staffers and residents alike.

Lawmakers told Miren Unsworth, division administrator, that troubling news the last several years concerning the center has had a negative impact on the community. The two vehicles in the budget drew the attention of lawmakers. The agency said they need to be replaced because they have a stench of urine that can’t be removed.

A 2001 van and a 2008 sedan are part of a $131,800 request by the agency that also includes upkeep projects on various buildings, including roofing, at the center. But Little’s budget cuts that request to $27,400 to replace just the sedan but not the van.

“Why wouldn’t we replace this van?” Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, asked. “I don’t think any of us would want to ride to work in a van in this condition.”

Officials with the Idaho Division of Financial Management said the decision in the governor’s recommended budget was part of the process to determine what needed to be replaced and how much money was available.

“Accidents happen with this population,” Division Administrator Miren Unsworth told lawmakers. “I think it’s just a reality with the people we serve.”

Unsworth said the center, which has 18 patients, has enough staff positions but has trouble hiring and retaining staff to care for patients.

“There’s no silver bullet for this complicated and vulnerable population,” Unsworth said.

Of the agency’s budget request, $10.3 million is for the center. That’s about $70,000 more than recommended by Little.

The agency also requested $22 million for its Community Developmental Disability Services, which helps children and adults with developmental disabilities around the state.

Lawmakers will decide on the budget request in the coming weeks.

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