The time is now for sales tax initiative | Our Corner

We believe it is time for our county commissioners to enact the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax initiative to provide dedicated revenue needed to expand treatment capacity for Kitsap County citizens with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders, and for the therapeutic courts and housing known to improve treatment outcomes.

The World Health Organization reports four of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide are mental disorders. In the U.S., one of every five families is affected by mental illnesses. In Kitsap County, mental illness and chemical dependency are the two top priorities to our Public Health Department.

In Kitsap County the burden of illness was thoroughly identified in community needs assessments conducted in 2006, and again in 2009.

Every penny raised on a $10 purchase in Kitsap County stays in Kitsap County, to be spent on Kitsap County citizens. We are requesting development of a community behavioral health plan that incorporates a transparent, accountable and public process, supported by funds allocated by and distributed through a Request for Proposals with a citizen engaged advisory vetting process and evaluated on performance measures and public progress reports.

Because this initiative is provided by law (RCW 82.14.460), the funding must be specifically directed and cannot be diverted into unrelated services, products or administration.

For every penny on a $10 purchase, we expect to accomplish some significant returns on the investment. This includes a reduction in the number of people with mental illness and/or chemical dependency using the costly services of the jail, emergency rooms and hospitals. We expect to reduce the overall incidence and severity of mental illness and chemical dependency in youth as well as adults through early intervention services. Finally we expect to increase safe, decent housing options with supportive services that provide stability and increase the likelihood of people staying successfully housed.

Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration, suicide and wasted lives. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion yearly in the U.S. Yet the best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 percent and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of behavioral health treatments and community supports. With appropriate treatment and services, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence.

Currently, more than 30 different social service agencies, governmental entities, and civic groups have signed resolutions encouraging the county commissioners to enact the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax initiative.

Given the frequency of mental illness, its significant negative impact to individuals, families and our communities, and the success of effective treatment, we believe it is time for Kitsap County commissioners to pass the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax initiative so that these funds can be used to make our small corner of the world a better and safer place for all Kitsap citizens.

Joe Roszak is the executive director of Kitsap Mental Health Services. His guest editorial represents the views of those agencies and individuals working to pass the mental health services sales tax.


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