Council supports mental-health tax

A downturn in the local economy has county officials bracing for a drop in revenue this year and the next.

But that hasn’t dissuaded members of the County Council from saying the time is right to ratchet up the sales tax by .01 percent in order to give local mental health services a boost.

Councilmen Alan Lichter, Orcas West, and Kevin Ranker, South San Juan, renewed their support last week for the tax which, according to recent studies, would generate about $350,000 a year.

Ranker noted that most neighboring counties have already seized upon the enabling legislation approved by state lawmakers two years ago and put such a tax in place.

“Frankly, we’re behind the ball in not doing this,” Ranker said. “We’ve heard time and time again about how the lack of services are affecting not only our kids, but our seniors as well. We’re already paying for this one way or another in our community.”

Through that enabling legislation, counties can expand existing mental health services and chemical dependency treatment programs, or create new ones, by adding a one-tenth of 1 percent tax onto retail sales. Those that do, however must establish a so-called “therapeutic court,” which would supervise, coordinate and oversee the treatment of parents and families involved in child-dependency hearings.

Not everyone at the county courthouse is convinced. During his campaign for Superior Court, Judge John Linde doubted the need for a therapeutic court because of the relatively few number of dependency cases which come before the court.

Earlier this year, the council created a task force to research shortfalls in the current level of mental health services. The council will receive an update Sept. 16.

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