STANTON — The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners voted 8-1 Monday to extend The Montcalm Center for Behavioral Health’s lease, despite objections from the commissioners’ own chairman.
The Center for Behavioral Health in Stanton is a community mental health authority providing services and support for people with serious and persistent mental illness, developmental disabilities and children with severe emotional disturbances. It also provides emergency services to anyone in the community 24/7.
The Center’s relationship with the county dates back to 1986, when the county established a building authority to build the building on behalf of the Center, which wasn’t allowed to own property at that time.
In September 2012, the Center’s 10-year lease with Montcalm County for use of the county-owned building expired. At that point, the Center had not made lease payments to Montcalm County since 2006, despite owing the county about $130,000 annually. This problem was created when the Department of Community Health ceased allowing state and federal funds to be used to make lease payments.
The Center issued the fiscal year lease payment of $130,000 to Montcalm County, as well as a balance of $650,000 for past lease payments in the autumn of 2012 in order to start resolving the funding issue.
In December 2012, the Center requested the county give the Center a 25-year lease. The Board of Commissioners responded by approving another 10-year lease to the Center in which the Center would continue to provide its own upkeep and maintenance of the building while the county would pay for the building’s insurance.
Earlier this month, Tammy Quillan, the executive director of The Montcalm Center for Behavioral Health, asked Montcalm County’s Finance & Personnel Committee to consider extending the Center’s lease through December 2030.
Quillan told commissioners the Center is planning on making renovations, extending programs and hiring more employees.
“We just want to be sure that if we’re investing that money, that it’s going to go toward our customers,” she said.
The committee recommended the full board approve the request, although Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview expressed concern about the lengthy lease extension, noting that the original intent of the agreement was not to tie either party into a longterm commitment when circumstances might change.
Carr expressed his concerns again at Monday’s full board meeting. Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township attempted to change Carr’s mind.
“I understand the concern for the length of the extension,” Johansen said. “But if you take the two years off and next year, 2015, we’re really looking at a 13-year extension, with the last two years being that the county could get out of the lease at that point. I hope you can understand the concern of the Behavioral Health board that they would allocate that much expenditure on a facility on such a current short-term existing lease.”
Carr wasn’t convinced, pointing out that the county has made budget cuts to the Mid-Michigan District Health Department and MSU Extension, but hasn’t been able to touch the Center’s budget because of a locked-in pricing agreement.
“Somewhere in between the original payoff of the bonds and the payoff of the lease, Montcalm County entered into some type of a deal with a Center in the state that froze their local match from Montcalm County,” Carr said. “My memory of that is that was somewhat of a sizable amount that Montcalm County agreed to pay. It’s easy to come back now and show all the money the Center has paid for Montcalm County, but it’s easy to forget that we were locked in to pay for that.”
Carr said the Center should just take the commissioners’ word that there are currently no other plans for the building and to continue paying rent.
“We had this discussion, we agreed that anything longer than this 10-year lease wasn’t going to be doing justice to this body,” said Carr referring to commissioners approving a 10-year lease in December 2012. “We didn’t want to lock in future boards in future years. The ink is hardly dry on this agreement and two and a half years down the road we’re on this. I think the amount of time is too long.
“I’m still opposed to it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of this board to make agreements that go out this far.”
Commissioners then voted 8-1 to extend the Center’s lease into December 2030.