Commissioners continue to gather input on tax hike plan

The proposal would increase the sales tax to pay for mental health care.

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WALLA WALLA -- The proposal for a one-tenth of one percentage point sales tax increase to fund mental health services here, now on the desk of Walla Walla County commissioners, is getting a closer look.

After commissioners held a March 28 session for public comment about the concept, a flood of correspondence arrived via email and phone calls, said commission Chairman Perry Dozier.

Which is just the input they sought, he added. "This decision is made solely by the commissioners. It's a pretty big decision to be made by three people."

While those in favor of the tax increase made up about 66 percent of attendees at that late-March forum, the comments that later followed split about 50-50, Dozier said. "Reading through those emails and hearing the phone calls, there were some good points brought up that we wanted more information about."

Along with Dozier, commissioners Greg Loney and Gregg Tompkins asked Daryl Daugs, head of the county's Department of Human Services, to draw up a business plan for the proposed funding increase.

"We wanted to know what that would look like. We would be looking at $700,000-800,000 a year," Dozier said. "How would that be spent?"

The board has also learned it can not collect less of an increase under state law, he said. "It was one-tenth of one percent, or nothing."

He said he needs to fully understand the mechanics of the proposal to explain it to others. "It's a big step we're looking at with the economy the way it is."

No one on the board believes more mental health services are not needed, he said. "But other issues have come up. We as commissioners are trying to look at this as closely as we can."

As a way to avoid the cost of an advisory vote from the public, an online poll has been posted on the County's website. The second question on the survey asks people to give a "yes, no or no opinion" on imposing the new tax rate, Dozier said.

There's a need to take the pulse of taxpayers on the issue, he said. "Emotionally, it sounds like a good thing with minimal impact right off. But as more people spoke, we realized there was more to it."

No exact time line has been set for a final decision, the chairman said. "We are being responsible enough to really get the full facts."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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