A tenth of a penny sales tax that pays for local mental health and criminal justice services was extended through 2019 by Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday.
Commissioners Todd Mielke and Shelly O’Quinn voted in favor of the extension. Commissioner Al French was away on other county business.
The tax, which dates to 2006, raises $7.1 million a year to pay for a combination of community-based housing and treatment along with special courts for defendants with chemical dependency and mental health problems.
Voters in the county gave the tax 58 percent approval in an advisory ballot after it was enacted.
The money has been used to plug gaping holes in mental health services after the state reduced funding and placed responsibility for services on local governments, Mielke said.
A big part of the program has been to divert mental health patients from the criminal justice system by stabilizing their lives and getting them into treatment and on medication, officials said.
“It gets people back to leading normal, productive lives,” said Ron Simpson of Sunshine Health Facilities in Spokane Valley.
The Spokane County Jail has been called one of the largest mental health facilities in the state because of the number of inmates who have had mental health problems over the years.
“Jail should not be the place where mental health issues are dealt with,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.
District Court Judge Randy Brandt, who presides over mental health court, said the number of defendants getting help through the intensive court program justifies the $760,000 spent annually on that slice of the program.