Proposed tax hike to get hearing

Commissioners will discuss a sales tax hike of one-tenth of one percent for mental health and substance abuse services.

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WALLA WALLA - A proposed tax hike to aid mental health and substance abuse services will be the subject of a public hearing Monday.

Walla Walla County commissioners will take comments on raising the county sales tax by one-tenth of one percent. The money raised would fund at least two psychiatric nurse practioners and one substance abuse specialist at the county's Department of Human Services.

At the commissioners' March 7 meeting, Daryl Daugs, county Human Services director, said funding cuts and increased need for mental health and addiction treatment during the current economic downturn "has created a crisis situation."

If the increase is enacted and it takes effect by July 1, it wold raise between $350,000 to $400,000 this year. That amount would increase to $700,000 to $800,000 in 2012, Daugs said.

At present, 15 counties in Washington state have enacted a sales tax increase to aid mental health and substance abuse treatment.

According to a report in the Tri-City Herald, a similar proposal was presented to Benton and Franklin county commissioners during a joint meeting held March 21.

Bicounty Human Services Administrator Ed Thornbrugh told commissioners money raised by the tax would fund a consolidated crisis response center, as well as pay for a mental health court to help divert people into treatment rather than jail and restore some programs lost by state fund cuts.

Public hearing

The hearing a proposed sales tax increase will be at 10:45 a.m. Monday in commissioners' chambers on the second floor of the Walla Walla County Public Health and Legislative Building, 314 W. Main St.

Sales tax facts

The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Tax was approved by the state Legislature in 2005. It allows counties to implement a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase to fund those services.

If approved, the tax would amount to 1 cent on each $10 purchase of nonessential goods. Essential items such as food and prescription drugs would not be taxed.

The law prohibits the use of funds raised by the tax for anything other than new or expanded mental health and chemical dependency issues.

(Source: Walla Walla County Human Services Department)

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