Sales tax to be discussed

The plan would impose a one-tenth of 1 percent increase to benefit mental health and substance abuse programs.

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WALLA WALLA - A proposed sales tax to boost mental health and substance abuse treatment funds will be back on the table Monday.

Walla Walla County commissioners will resume discussion of the issue at 11 a.m. at the county Public Health and Legislative Building, 314 W. Main St. Commissioners may take action on the item or direct staff to do further work on the issue.

If enacted, the proposal would impose a one-tenth of 1 percent increase in the county sales tax. This would amount to 1 cent on each $10 purchase of nonessential goods. Essential items such as food and prescription drugs would be exempt.

According to Daryl Daugs, county Human Services director, the tax would raise between $700,000 to $800,000 per year. The money would fund at least two psychiatric nurse practitioners and one substance abuse specialist at the county Human Services Department.

The measure, which allows counties to implement the tax, was enacted the state Legislature in 2005. At present, 15 counties in Washington state have enacted the tax, Daugs said.

In presentations to commissioners, Daugs said the additional money is badly needed to compensate for state and federal funding cuts that have sliced into the services DHS can provide. The additional funds would also allow the department to serve other Walla Walla residents who don't currently qualify for help due to Medicaid or Veterans Affairs ineligibility.

A public hearing held by commissioners on March 28 drew mixed reviews on the measure. While many spoke in favor of the proposition, others were just as adamant that the tax increase is a bad idea coming at a bad time. Commissioners held open the period for accepting written testimony until April 1 to allow more people to comment.

At their April 4 meeting, commissioners directed staff to research, among other issues, the possibility of holding an advisory vote and whether any excess funds raised by the tax could be banked for future use. The results of that research will be among items discussed Monday, said Connie Vinti, clerk of the board.

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