County gnaws on sales tax for mental health

Kitsap County commissioners haven’t fully embraced a sales tax increase for mental health services, but they aren’t running away from it either.

“I think there was consensus to continue to explore the possibility. Beyond that, there haven’t been any decisions made,” said Commissioner Rob Gelder.

Under state law, counties are able to implement a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase to support mental health services. So far, 20 counties have implemented such a tax and all of them, with the exception of Spokane County, which put it out to a vote of the citizenry, were put into place by county boards.

Following a study session last week, the board directed county staff to come up with a timeline that would allow commissioners and the public to further study the issues involved with such a tax hike.

Supporters of the tax say it will likely raise about $3 million a year and, in order to build up reserves, money would not be awarded during the first year. From there, panels of experts will make recommendations as to which county groups that apply for the money and deal specifically with things like drug and alcohol addiction should be awarded. Backers also say that stringent evaluations would be performed every year to make sure that the money had a positive impact on mental health in Kitsap County.

“I understand this is a need, but I want to know there is a way to evaluate things if we go down this road,” Gelder said. “I need to have a high level of confidence that what is being funded is having a good impact on mental health in the community. I want to make sure there is a good, solid process in place in how these funds will be vetted and what providers will get the funding so we get the biggest return and impact.”

A growing list of supporters of the sales tax increase includes local judges, law enforcement personnel, city councils, mental health experts and others. As of mid-week, county staff were still putting together a schedule to further study and consider the issue. Calls to commissioners Charlotte Garrido and Josh Brown seeking comment were not returned.


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