AUGUSTA — The city may ask a nonprofit organization that assists and houses mentally ill clients to make an annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to help offset the cost of providing municipal services such as police, fire and rescue.

In addition, city councilors will consider a proposed resolution that asks for the reinstatement of a recently cut job of an intensive case manager, who helps city police deal with people with mental illnesses in Augusta.

The goal of both is to help the city deal with the burden that comes with being home to the state’s primary mental health treatment properties, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

“By default, the city of Augusta ends up being a service provider” to mentally ill people living in Augusta, Bridgeo said. “We accept that. But it’s only fair we have some help in that regard. It’s the Augusta Police Department who is called when these group homes have someone in crisis.”

Councilors meet tonight at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Both requests come a week after a meeting between city and mental health officials over a contentious plan to close three group homes on the grounds of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute, now the Riverview Psychiatric Center, and move 16 patients — including those found not criminally responsible for violent crimes — into group homes in the city, including 22-24 Green St. and 14 Glenridge Drive. At least one city councilor, Patrick Paradis, has raised concerns about public safety, and he and other city officials were upset to learn about the plan in a Kennebec Journal story.

Since the 1970s, when the former Augusta Mental Health Institute had thousands of residents, the trend away from institutionalization toward more community-based living has meant a growing number of people with mental illnesses living in group homes in communities while still receiving treatment.

Many of those clients, Bridgeo and other officials have long noted, are either required or choose to live in Augusta to be near mental health services.

The nonprofit organization Motivational Services, which owns eight properties in Augusta, provides many of those services. Combined, those properties are appraised by the city at $2.9 million, according to city assessing records.

But because Motivational Services is a nonprofit organization, it does not pay property taxes to the city.

The resolution going to councilors tonight, if approved, would “ask that Motivational Services establish a modest payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to provide funds to offset some of the direct cost incurred annually by the city of Augusta, most particularly police, fire, and EMS services, associated with Motivational Services Augusta-based clients and facilities.”

Bridgeo suggested a payment of about 25 percent of what Motivational Services’ tax bill would be on its Augusta properties if it weren’t a nonprofit organization. With the city’s tax rate of $17.55 per $1,000 of property value, its taxes would total about $52,000 a year. In turn, 25 percent of that would be $13,000 per year.

Richard M. Weiss, executive director of Motivational Services, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Bridgeo said he’s aware the agency, like other human-service agencies, is likely struggling for funding like the city.

The proposed council resolution also asks the state and/or Motivational Services to restore the intensive case manager position cut, with other similar positions elsewhere in Maine, from the last state budget.

In Augusta, the position is held by Greg Smith, who has held the job since the position was first created about a decade ago. Smith usually works nights with Augusta police, responding to help whenever a call involves someone with a mental illness in distress.

Bridgeo said having Smith on the job to help diffuse those situations has been tremendously successful.

In a letter he sent recently to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, State Sen. Roger Katz also asks to restore funding for Augusta’s intensive case manager. Katz says Augusta’s “rather unique relationship” with the Riverview Psychiatric Center and the “unique burden it places on city law enforcement is obvious to everyone.”

“To the extent that (not criminally responsible) patients are released in ‘the community,’ invariably, it is first into Augusta,” Katz writes. “Until recently, the Augusta Police Department had a position to deal specifically with mentally ill consumers, funded through the (DHHS’) intensive case management program. I am aware that program was largely eliminated in the last budget deliberation cycle.

“However, given the unique and substantial burden which Augusta must bear, I respectfully ask to see if there is some way in your budget that this officer could be replaced.”


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