Spokane County commissioners are hoping to turn local community support into increased state funding for mental health services.
On the same day the three commissioners unanimously instated a 0.1 percent sales tax for such services, they also told their lobbyist to urge the state Legislature to fund more Spokane County mental health programs.
Spokane County voters overwhelmingly approved in November an advisory vote on the tax designed to help fill a mental health funding gap created by a perfect storm of reduced federal assistance, lower than anticipated state allocations and a lack of local mental health reserves.
“Thank you, citizens,” said Commissioner Phil Harris on Tuesday as he and fellow commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke approved the sales tax increase.
That tax is expected to raise $3.9 million during the second half of 2006 – not enough to solve the problem completely, but enough to prevent further cuts, said Christine Barada, the county’s community services director.
Although the county won’t begin collecting the tax until July, commissioners agreed to allow the Regional Support Network overseeing mental health programs to borrow $1.6 million now from the expected collections.
“We’re stabilizing the system,” Barada said.
About $500,000 a month has been cut from local mental health services since the summer.
Richard reminded the other commissioners that the tax will expire in three years, calling it a “stop-gap” solution.
The county and state sparred for months over who had responsibility for the mental health funding shortfall, but regardless of blame, state leaders said at the time they were unable to address their contribution until the coming legislative session.
Now that county residents will be contributing more to mental health services, commissioners told their lobbyist, Mike Burgess, to push legislators to send more funding to Spokane.
“That’s a good argument in our favor,” said Richard of the local tax, adding, “Just because you’re raising revenues doesn’t mean the state doesn’t need to contribute.”
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