Call it the blame game, and Baltimore County's chronic mentally ill are the losers.
James W. "Jim" Stockdill, deputy state health director, says the state has provided more money for mental health programs this year -- money for projects the county wanted. So, don't blame the state if local treatment and employment training programs can't be funded.
County officials say the state's insistence that the extra money be targeted for specific projects is to blame for the threatened cuts in community mental health programs.
They don't blame County Executive Roger B. Hayden's cutting of their $2 million request for local mental health program funds by $871,000 because, they say, no agency gets what it requests.
County Budget Director Fred Homan says the state has put the county in a "box" over the last few years by first cutting funds for community mental health programs, then increasing funding, but targeting it to specific, state-approved projects.
The county got caught in the "box" when it used county money to take up the slack for state cuts, he said. Now, he lamented, the county, instead of the state, appears stingy for not forking over the money the programs need.
Regardless of who should be blamed, mental health advocates are worried that their clients will suffer because there will be less support for cheaper, community-based treatment for people who can hold jobs and care for themselves with a little help.
Dr. Margaret L. Sherrard, the county's health director, confirmed earlier reports of the cuts when the County Council met Wednesday to review her budget.
However, she tried to minimize their effect.
Dr. Sherrard and Mr. Homan said they are working on ways of reducing the cuts to levels the mental health programs can absorb.
"There will have to be some cuts in some [mental health] programs," Dr. Sherrard told the council.
None of the seven members questioned her on the topic.
After the routine session, she said, "I'm not expecting to [entirely] eliminate a program."
She and Mr. Homan had earlier insisted the local money would be replaced almost entirely by new state money, leaving only a $78,000 gap. But Dr. Sherrard acknowledged what mental health advocates have been saying -- that the state money can only be used for designated projects.
The County Council has no power to add money to Mr. Hayden's budget.
Regarding the budget, the council can only cut funds.