JOHN DAY - A drug addict or a troubled youth in need of counseling could fall through the cracks without state reforms to its mental-health funding system, consultants warned a regional alliance Friday.

"It appears to us we're going to have a lot of folks placed in county jails," instead of them being evaluated for mental-health treatment, said Kevin Campbell, a consultant with Two Oregons Inc. of Salem.

In a sense, Campbell and Terry Edvalson, both affiliated with the 13-county Eastern Oregon Human Services Consortium, were preaching to the choir when they issued their stern warnings Friday to the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance. The alliance is a coalition of county leaders, health officials, economic developers and other officials hoping to educate the Legislature about the region's economic and social problems. The alliance met in John Day to continue strategizing its lobbying effort for the 2003 legislative session.

By warning about the pinch being felt locally from state budget cuts to human-services budgets, Campbell and Edvalson did not tell the alliance much that members didn't already know.

However, the pair was not just pleading for more money from Salem. Instead, they suggested improvements that could allow county agencies to tap local client fees, insurance payments, fines and other funds to leverage federal money into the state.

"Right now, just looking at Grant County's audit for last year, we can identify about $106,000 of existing funds that came through the Grant County mental health department" that could have been used as matching funds, Campbell said. That money includes client fees, interest and insurance revenue that the state did not match against federal grants, such as Medicare.

"That $106,000 would get you about $163,000 of federal dollars," he said.

A state that is millions of dollars short of cash, based on revenue forecasts, should not be turning away millions of dollars of federal funding because of bureaucratic inflexibility, Campbell said.

"We're in danger of leaving about a billion dollars of federal dollars on the table in the next biennium," he said.

The Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance will be asked to craft a legislative solution, tentatively, by the next alliance meeting March 7 in John Day.

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