Action delayed on tax increase for mental health services

Commissioners agreed to vote on the proposal in October.

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WALLA WALLA -- The fate of a proposed sales tax hike to boost mental health services won't be known until October, Walla Walla County commissioners decided Monday.

Commissioners voted to postpone action until their first meeting in October and to decide the issue then.

Commissioners Perry Dozier, Gregg Loney and Greg Tompkins agreed the delay will allow them time to get a better idea of the 2012 budget picture. If enacted by commissioners in October, the tax increase would not take effect until the start of next year.

The proposed one-tenth of 1 percentage point increase would raise between $700,000 and $800,000 per year. The money would fund at least two psychiatric nurse practitioners and one substance abuse specialist at the county level.

Commissioners have been studying and taking comments on the proposal since it was brought forward earlier this year by county Human Services Director Daryl Daugs. A measure passed by the Legislature in 2005 allows counties to implement the tax to increase funds for mental health and substance abuse services.

At Monday's meeting, a number of people spoke in favor of the tax increase, saying the money is badly need to close gaps in existing services.

Commissioners said they sympathized with those in need, but they have had to wrestle with imposing a new tax at a time when the economy remains poor.

"I feel the county is a service provider and the only way to provide that is generation of revenue," Dozier said. But the only way to do that is to increase taxes, and the economy has not recovered, he said.

"You hate to take away from basic needs of people by taxing them. I'm not opposed to (the tax), but I would like to have a better idea of where the county's finances are going," he said.

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