The revenue from Denver’s mill levy in 2018 is expected to be more than 17 million dollars. Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) is currently under contract for distributing the mill levy monies. That contract is set to expire this summer on June 30. Any contract over $500,000 requires the approval of the City Council.
Denver Human Services (DHS) has been conducting a needs assessment survey to decide how to spend the mill levy revenue and what agency to contract with for implementing those decisions. DHS will be holding a public meeting on June 11th to share the results of the needs assessment survey.
In this EVOICE, AdvocacyDenver takes an in-depth look at the mill levy decision process with four different perspectives from decision makers, stakeholders, clients, and parents impacted by the outcome. Mill Levy Program Manager, Justin Sykes, says DHS has received over 250 survey responses. He emphasizes that DHS is supporting an open process for obtaining information from public output.
Interviews Conducted By Catherine Strode
Mill Levy Program Manager, Denver Human Services Administration
How is Denver Human Services collecting information about the needs for mill levy monies?
“In December of 2017, DHS shared a timeline with City Council for conducting this community needs assessment and for executing a new contract with RMHS, the Community Center Board for Denver. In January, we issued a request for services. DHS believes people and families that receive services through Denver’s mill levy have a very important voice in this process. To best capture that voice, DHS has contracted with a third party to help us learn what mill levy services are working, what services need to be improved, and what services are missing. We ended up picking an independent firm which has experience doing research and analysis on matters impacting people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We want to hear from a wide cross section of stakeholders and Denver residents including people who may have low income, who may be experiencing homelessness, who may not currently be receiving services. A Needs Assessment Steering Committee, comprised of community members and internal staff of Denver Human Services, is advising on our process for gathering community input. The Steering Committee is not making recommendations about how the mill levy revenue will be spent but rather is generating ideas about how to gather public input and conduct outreach as part of the needs assessment.”
What does Denver Human Services hope to learn through interviews with clients and community members?
“There’s about nine million dollars from prior years of this dedicated mill levy revenue that is sitting in the city’s bank accounts. We don’t want it sitting there. We want it out providing services for people who live in Denver with intellectual or developmental disabilities but we want to be very deliberate about how we spend that money. We want to spend it on what the community identifies as the biggest needs and challenges for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We want to learn what services people are satisfied with and don’t want to change. What are those services that may be needed but aren’t working as well as they should be? What services could be improved? Then, we want to hear what services aren’t even available today that should be available. We’ve heard a lot about transportation, a lot about affordable housing. We want to hear about services that may not currently be available for residents through the mill levy that people believe could make life better for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in Denver.”
What is the timeline for the decision?
“By the end of June, the hope is to have finished up the (needs assessment) survey, have also completed informational interviews, focus groups, and to have hosted a public meeting. At the public meeting, we want to be able to share findings and let people react to the findings from the survey and from the interviews. We don’t want this to be a closed process. The current contract with RMHS expires on June 30 of this year. We will be bringing forward a new contract for City Council to approve. We’ve alerted City Council that we would like to execute a new contract with RMHS. We’ve submitted the resolution request for City Council approval of the contract and now the ball is in their court in terms of scheduling when they want to consider this contract. Our goal is for a new contract to be executed between DHS and RMHS well in advance of the current contract expiring so services for Denver residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities are not disrupted in any way.”
Charlene Lawrence, a client of AdvocacyDenver, is taking a class offered by the Financial Health Institute with mill levy revenue. Charlene also appreciates that mill levy funds were used to purchase an IPad and pay for training in relation to this technology.
What are you learning in the class?
“I know more about budgeting money. It makes me wake up about money and say every time you see something, ‘Don’t buy it. You don’t need it.’ When I put my money away, I don’t pay attention to it. That is how you can save your money. I’m waiting to get a cordless carpet sweeper. I think it might help around my house. I’m waiting for it. I’m not buying a whole lot right now. I don’t need more credit. I know how to say, ‘No’ because that’s how you get in more debt. The next things I want to buy are a hutch and an entertainment cabinet. But I don’t want to buy it right now because I’ll get into more debt. I’ll wait a while now. I like to go to the Dollar Tree but I don’t go all the time now.”
Executive Director, RMHS
The Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Human Services, Shari Repinski, applauds the Needs Assessment Survey. She says her organization is trying to reach a broad audience by putting it out to the community through social media channels and other agency networks. She adds that what Denver Human Services is doing is extremely important because it offers an opportunity to review how services are delivered and accessed.
What do you hope to learn from stakeholders in Denver Human Services’ survey?
“We welcome this needs assessment to hear that voice of the person who is trying to find services, requesting services, or receiving services. Hearing that perspective is very important to us. We look at needs assessment as being a continuous process. What DHS is doing is extremely important because I think we have to reset what our assumptions are for that individual’s need. Sometimes you need to pause, refresh and look at it from a broader perspective to know where we are meeting the mark, where we are missing it and what things we can do better. I applaud DHS for going down this road and taking this deep dive. I think some of the things it might review are services. How can we deliver them a little bit differently? What things might be better for DHS to deliver themselves by contracting with some new organizations? Some of the things we still see missing we have to figure out: how does all of this come together? How do we coordinate it? How do we help a family not only have services available, but, how do they access them? How do they coordinate them? How do we ensure it doesn’t become overwhelming for them to manage and navigate them? It’s that coordination piece that is the critical component. While I’m hopeful this needs assessment. It is going to identify new things, I also think that’s just the first step. We have to figure out: then what? Just putting contracts out to a number of organizations doesn’t necessarily make it easier for people to access them. I think we have more work to do to figure out that part.”
Do you think there will be more than one contract for mill levy revenue distribution?
“It’s our expectation that not all of it (the mill levy revenue) will flow through RMHS. It’s our understanding we will be under contract for a portion of that and DHS will contract with others for a portion of that. There’s a desire to reach out to other providers to see if there are different services beyond the Community Center Board (CCB) system that could be delivered. If individuals are needing transportation, we may not be the best provider to deliver or to coordinate transportation. Or, if what individuals need support with is housing, there’s likely another entity or provider who could do more with that in a quicker time period than we ever could. This is new territory. We’re not exactly sure what it will look like. We’re hopeful DHS working with those other entities will actually build a stronger Denver community. There will be others with different expertise, different systems and resources; that will help fill some of those gaps. I think it will depend on what’s the best way to deliver it and what will be the best way to access it. There will be some agencies we will continue to subcontract with. There may be some new agencies we will subcontract with. We’re able to pull some of the pieces together because we also provide the case management. We’re able to help individuals access those services more seamlessly. It’s my hope we would be able to still work with some of those agencies. There are other providers where that coordination isn’t as essential.”
Are you able to assure clients there will not be a disruption n services while the City Council completes the contract decision process?
“We are delivering services today that we believe will continue. In our conversations with DHS, we are confident that those services will continue. We expect our new contract to go forward before this one expires on June 30. We are continuing the work to be sure we can just roll right into the new contract. It will be seamless to individuals. There won’t be any interruption. We won’t be making any changes. As long as we have a contract with DHS, we are able to provide the services individuals need. If there is a delay or a lapse in that, it always creates a problem in continuing services or even making commitments about continuing services. As it stands right now, if that contract is renewed before June 30, there is no reason why services should be interrupted. We will continue services as we are delivering them today. Without knowing for sure how the contract moves forward, it’s hard to give an absolute but if the contract gets renewed, we’re able to continue services just as we are today. We are expecting to know for sure by mid-June.”
Member, Needs Assessment Steering Committee/Parent
Val Saiz is a member of the Needs Assessment Committee. She has a 21-year-old son who with severe multiple developmental and intellectual disabilities. She says she has seen tremendous positive change and progress in the availability and delivery of services over the past 20 years in the state.
What has been your experience of being on the Steering Committee?
“Back in January of 2018, DHS consulted with the Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities and they identified three community members to be part of the Steering Committee for the Needs Assessment and I was added to that. We have someone from early childhood, an advocacy group, a parent perspective, and a person who takes care of individuals at risk for abuse. We talk a lot about diversity. We have talked to people who are taking care of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in jails and in homeless situations and people who are identifying as different sexualities. We are trying to include them. We are trying to get the best diversity we can for the needs assessment.”
What do you hope the Denver community will learn from the stakeholder process?
“I am hoping the outcome helps us understand what’s needed. The reason I am in favor of the survey is because my perspective is not everyone’s perspective. I have a kid in the system who is on the most severe range for everything. I don’t think it would be fair for me to say, ‘These are the gaps I had so I think the money from the mill levy needs to go here.’ It needs to have this breadth of feedback from people who have lots of diverse needs. People who: are mildly affected by things, have mental illness, are IDD plus something else. People who are from different populations, with homelessness, with diversity, people of color. We need to represent everybody. In the end, you’re going to get the community to listen to the outcome of the survey. Then, when the monies start going to those places, you’ve got something to back it up. It gives validation to where the money may go. I hope we can find the answers. I hope we can get people interested in the process. I think this will open up discussion. Once the survey closes, hopefully the discussion continues. When the money is appropriated, everybody can be happy with the outcome.”