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Sales tax for mental health passes

Spokane County voters passed two advisory ballot propositions, approving a 0.1 percent sales tax increase for mental health services and buying into a plan to cast all ballots by mail.

But while all three commissioners said Tuesday that they would institute the tax, two balked at eliminating poll site voting, saying they needed to further study the issue.

Of the 93,005 votes counted on the mental health tax Tuesday evening, 57.2 percent were for the tax, with 42.8 percent against it.

“I’m relieved and I’m proud that people are stepping up and making a difference,” said Commissioner Mark Richard, who called it a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

The three-year mental health tax – $1 on a $1,000 purchase – will raise about $6.5 million a year to fill a $7.5 million hole caused primarily by federal funding cuts.

Commissioners Phil Harris and Todd Mielke also cheered its passage.

“I felt that the mental health one would pass. The people in the county are real good at helping people who can’t help themselves,” said Harris.

“When you tell people what the issue is, I think they’re pretty compassionate,” said Mielke.

But the new tax money won’t be enough to prevent all cuts in the new year, said Spokane County Community Services Director Christine Barada. That’s because the county won’t begin collecting the tax until July.

The other countywide proposition, on the vote-by-mail issue, was passing Tuesday night with 56.4 percent in favor and 43.6 percent against.

About 57 percent of Spokane County voters are registered to vote absentee, and absentee voters typically cast ballots in greater numbers than those who go to the polls.

Richard, who voted at the polls himself Tuesday, said the outcome made him “a little bit sad,” but said he would follow the will of the voters.

The other two commissioners disagreed, saying they want to think about the issue before making a decision.

“I’m still very skeptical it will save us money,” said Mielke, who added that the county’s current system already accommodates those who wish to vote by mail.

Taking away the right to vote at the polls “strikes at the core of democracy,” he said.

Harris, who has opposed an all vote-by-mail system from the beginning, said he isn’t certain that the voters understood the issue.

“I have real mixed feelings on it. I usually go with the will of the voters but the ballot was misleading,” said Harris.

The ballot proposition should have reminded them that they already have the right to vote, he explained.

County attorney Jim Emacio wrote that proposition at the direction of the commissioners, said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton. The commissioners approved it.

“Until they tell me their questions and concerns, I can’t respond,” she said.



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