Three state officials tour Dawn of Hope; commissioners hopeful funding will be increased

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 4, 2013 at 11:55 AM

This year’s small increase in government reimbursements for services to Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities was the first increase agencies like Johnson City’s Dawn of Hope Development Center have seen since 2005.

In town for a tour of the developmental center Tuesday, three of the state’s top administrators said funding increases will continue to be very difficult to come by in the coming budget year but also shared some cause for optimism.

“These are very difficult times for budget,” Debra Payne, the newly appointed commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, said.

According to Payne, the department has reduced its internal workforce by more than 48 percent since 2007 and “will continue to look within our own organization to bear the brunt of cuts” already looming in next year’s budget.

“Our concern is for the consumers of our services and for the 7,000 people who are on our waiting list who do not receive services.

“We will be challenged to improve our efficiencies using the funding we have everywhere we can,” she said.

Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry, who preceded Payne at the helm of the DIDD, and Doug Varney, commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health, joined Payne in the Dawn of Hope tour and in her cautious approach to the coming budget year.

Henry said next year’s budget process has already begun with a request for all state departments to trim their budgets by 5 percent.

“That’s the first round,” he said. “We’ll make recommendations and then see what the revenue looks like.”

Noting that state sales tax revenues have improved to the levels they were in 2008, Henry said he does see reason to be encouraged.

“Even in difficult times, our governor has the ability to do things to get the money where it needs to be. Our governor is a businessman and knows how to manage that. And he has the heart for it.

“Our state has led other regions and other states in the things we’ve been able to do in our economy. And I feel our state has also been a leader in services,” Henry said.

Varney said Tennessee has made strides in its economy that will help not only health and human services but everyone.

According to Dawn of Hope Executive Director Lee Chase, the nonprofit center receives approximately $7 million of its $9 million budget from the state.

“We’re looking this year at our third deficit in a row and our second year we’ve been unable to give raises,” Chase said.

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