Commissioners wise to seek clarity tax-hike proposal

Raising the sales tax is a big decision and details are needed on how the money will be used.

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Walla Walla County commissioners wisely asked for detailed information about how the money from a proposed one-tenth of 1 percent increase in the sales tax would be spent.

The tax hike is being considered to bolster mental health and substance abuse services through the county's Human Services Department. The tax increase is expected to bring in $700,000 to $800,000 a year.

Daryl Daugs, head of the Human Services Department, plans to hire at least two psychiatric nurse practitioners and one substance abuse specialist if the tax hike is approved.

But commissioners -- and many citizens -- want to know exactly how those three positions could cost $800,000. It does seem as if that's more money than is needed, although Daugs has said there are many costs associated with mental health and substance abuse services that require all the money being requested.

Commissioners now want details on how the money would be spent and some clarity on what the money can -- and can't -- be spent on.

Commissioner Gregg Loney called for a "strategic business plan" from the Human Services Department. He said he wanted to know where the money would go that's not being used for additional personnel.

Commissioner Greg Tompkins focused on the rules imposed by the state and federal governments that limit how money is allocated for social programs. Although there is a public perception that money can be transferred from one program to another, that's not the case.

Tompkins wants to know whether it might be more prudent to ask the state Legislature if money can be moved rather than impose a higher tax.

Loney, Tompkins and Commissioner Perry Dozier were also interested in how people would be referred to the expanded services.

Commisisoners are asking all the right questions and, more importantly, demanding clear answers.

Raising the sales tax, even a little, is a very big decision. Commissioners should be commended for demanding a clear vision for how this money will be used if the tax is approved.

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