Congratulations are in order for the Kitsap County Commission which made the right decision last month to institute a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund mental health programs in the county.
After several months of study, the commissioners voted unanimously to pass the tax which will become effective Jan. 1, 2014. It is expected to raise more than $3 million a year.
The process has been a diligent one. Commissioners heard testimony earlier this year and instructed staff to host two more public comment sessions. They also invited the League of Women Voters to hold meetings to help explain the tax to Kitsap County residents.
The commission also has established a citizens advisory committee that will determine how the money will be spent. The committee will look at existing programs based on a “behavioral health assessment need” that is being created by a second group of law enforcement, courts and mental health experts.
At a time when raising taxes of any kind is hard to do, commissioners said they had seen first-hand the need for more mental health services in Kitsap County. Family members spoke at the public hearings about having loved ones with mental illness who have been unable to get help.
Emotional stories were told and people bore their own pain to fight for the tax to be passed.
No one doubts the need. Just listen to the news of shootings throughout the country. Shooters are commonly found to have mental health issues that haven’t been addressed due to lack of services.
Listen to the police scanner for an afternoon, and you’ll find a large number of the calls that first responders go to in this county are related to subjects with mental health issues that have gone untreated.
As Commissioner Rob Gelder said, “This is not about raising dollars for feel-good programs … it’s about strategic investments … for the better health of our community.”
Kitsap County can be proud of its step forward in creating a safer, more humane place for all of us.