Commissioners approve mental health sales tax

Kitsap County commissioners voted unanimously this week to institute a .01 percent sales tax for mental health and substance abuse programs.

The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, and is expected to raise about $3 million per year. The commissioners’ approval of the tax increase followed a pair of public hearings and many months of legwork by supporters.

Commissioner Rob Gelder, prior to casting his vote, talked about a public hearing last week in Poulsbo that left him more emotional than he thought he would be. He noted that nearly every speaker shared a personal connection to mental health and mental illness.

“They were willing to sort of put themselves on the line to really truly bare their souls for all the public inspection and that takes a lot of guts,”  he said.

Gelder said that he did a lot of deliberative soul searching before reaching his decision to vote for the tax.

“What it boils down to is everyone’s lives have been touched in some way, shape or form by mental health or mental illness,” he said. “It may not be ourselves personally. It may be a family member, a friend and acquaintance or somebody down the road from us. But our lives are touched. Our community is touched by this issue and I think this is a really important step to take moving forward to try to really begin to turn the tide on this particular topic.”

Gelder also said he will remain committed to making sure that the new funds are spent wisely.

“This is not just about raising dollars for feel-good programs in our community, but is really about making strategic investments so that we can demonstrate how that investment pays off in the long run for the better health of our community,” he said.

Commissioner Charlotte Garrido spoke in favor of the new tax and also thanked those who shared personal stories about struggles with mental health.

“Probably everyone in this room and who is watching (on television) has had some sort of direct or indirect experience with somebody who was in need of the programs that we’re able to fund with this new action,” she said.

So far, 20 counties have implemented such a sales 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.

“So, we have a lot of information from those other counties that have enacted it about exactly how they have spent that money and what’s happening in those programs,” Garrido said.

Commissioner Josh Brown made it clear why he voted for the new tax.

“This ordinance will help make our community safer,” he said. “It will help save taxpayer dollars so we can dedicate those resources to more important things.

“It will help people and I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.”

Harrison Medical Center President and CEO Scott Bosch is one of several community leaders who were pleased by the commissioners’ decision to adopt the new ordinance.

“I applaud the commissioners’ courage to take this on,” Bosch said. “The funds will be used to develop programs and access to mental health services that are so desperately needed.”

A citizen advisory committee will now vet programs to be funded with the new tax dollars.

The committee will make funding recommendations based on a “behavioral health assessment need” being developed by a separate 17-member member committee made up of people from law enforcement, the courts, mental health experts and others.

The following people were appointed to the Kitsap County Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Therapeutic Court Citizens Advisory Committee, the group that will make spending recommendations, on Monday: Lois Hoell, Peninsula Regional Support Network;

Jeannie Screws, Kitsap County Substance Abuse Advisory Board; Aimee DeVaughn, Commission on Children and Youth; Connie Wurm, Area Agency on Aging;

Dave Shurick, Law and Justice; Walt Bigby Education; Carl Olson, at large member District 2;

James Pond, at large member District 3; Robert Parker, at large member District 2;

Russell Hartman, at large member District 3; and Richard Daniels, at large member District 1.


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