Justice Matters does not currently have a valid petition that could place a new mental health plan on the November ballot, Douglas County counselor John Bullock told the group Monday after a review of the proposed language, but the group maintains that the flaws can be readily fixed.
On April 9, Justice Matters presented a proposed petition to Douglas County that included the language for a ballot question raising property taxes by 3.5 mills “for the purpose of constructing or refurbishing and equipping a building to serve as a mental health crisis center, and paying the operating and support services expenses thereof.”
Justice Matters leaders said the proposal was an alternative to the referendum the county is putting before voters this month for an additional half-cent of sales tax authority, which would raise an estimated $9.8 million annually to fund the $44 million expansion of the county jail and $11 million behavioral health campus.
It was the goal of Justice Matters to launch the petition April 21 and get a ballot question on the property tax on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Bullock reviewed and responded to the proposed petition as Kansas statute requires. He found that the petition, as presented, contained passages that were “misleading, vague or ambiguous.” He also found it contained formatting and punctuation errors. Passages Bullock cited as problematic included:
• The petition’s statement that the referendum would be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot was misleading and confusing.
The County Commission would have to schedule a referendum within 90 days of receiving a valid petition. It’s possible a referendum could be scheduled for the general election, but that is dependent on state and federal election laws, as well as logistical concerns, Bullock wrote. The Douglas County Clerk’s Office would have to have a valid petition before Aug. 24 to get on the Nov. 6 ballot.
• The petition’s call for the county to start collecting the additional 3.5 mills in property taxes on Jan. 1, 2019, should the referendum be approved.
That is not possible because the County Commission will approve the 2019 budget and mill levy in August, Bullock wrote. The soonest the added mill levy could be collected would be Jan. 1, 2020. Because of the state’s cash-basis law, the county could not start spending to build or staff a crisis center until it had revenue to do so.
• The petition statement that the added mill levy authority would sunset in 2028, but that following an outcome analysis it “will be presented for renewal to Douglas County voters during the 2028 general election.”
Bullock wrote that that is misleading because there is no state provision that allows referendum-approved property taxes to sunset. He also wrote that any 2028 referendum to reauthorize the mill levy authority would require another successful petition.
• The petition’s statement that under Kansas Statute 19-117(c), revenue from the 3.5 mills would be used for “the exclusive purpose” of constructing, refurbishing or equipping a mental health crisis center.
Bullock wrote that that statute doesn’t give the county the authority to pledge the added revenue only for the purposes the petition states. A different statute, Kansas Statue 79-1945, “could potentially” authorize revenue to be used for mental health programs but not for capital improvements, Bullock wrote.
• The petition doesn’t address how the 3.5 mill levy increase would relate to the state’s tax lid law, which forbids local jurisdictions from increasing property taxes more than the rate of inflation without approval of voters.
Bullock wrote that the response is his opinion and that Justice Matters is free to consult its attorney. He said the purpose of raising the issues about the petition was to be transparent about problems so that they could be addressed.
Brent Hoffman, Justice Matters executive committee member, said the group anticipated that there would be punctuation and formatting errors in the petition and that the county would find statutory concerns. The group’s leadership is attempting to schedule a meeting with Bullock to discuss the issues that Bullock raised.
Hoffman said he was confident that a valid petition could be crafted, which would give county voters a chance to vote to fund a mental health crisis center without a jail expansion.
“With the cooperation of the county, we think we can deliver a valid petition so that voters can make that decision in November,” he said. “We think that is what the community wants.”
Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said Justice Matters leadership was finding out that crafting ballot language and developing viable public policy solutions were difficult tasks because of the tax lid and other complications.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is how complicated this work is when you take into consideration state statute, budget calendars and community expectations,” she said, citing the tax lid’s constraints on local control. “That’s one reason the county, after lots of consideration, chose a sales tax referendum. It’s more flexible and not constrained by the tax lid.”
More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus• May 14, 2018 — County clerk reports that about 40 percent of Proposition 1 ballots have been returned by eve of deadline
• May 9 — Latest debate in sales tax election: How far can the county go in pushing for a ‘yes’ vote?
• May 8 — Proposition 1 brochures removed from County Treasurer’s Office counter after citizen complains
• May 7 — Proposition 1 ballots coming in at ‘impressive’ rate; county clerk says turnout could exceed 45 percent
• April 30 — Jail referendum fact check: A look at what both sides aren’t saying about the heated campaign
• April 30 — Midcase mental health evaluations for Douglas County jail inmates have increased
• April 30 — How much is violent crime up in Douglas County? Either a lot or very little, depending on which statistics you look at
• April 24 — A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion
• April 23 — Americans for Prosperity campaigning against sales tax in county referendum
• April 22 — At forum, Douglas County commissioner explains 'what if' option if sales tax referendum fails
• April 22 — Get ready to vote: Questions and answers on the Douglas County half-cent sales tax ballot question
• April 22 — 4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents
• April 20 — County says Justice Matters using wrong law to try to force mental health vote; group plans to start petition drive on Saturday
• April 18 — Douglas County leaders learn about first participant in diversion program for female inmates; Thellman cites Constitution on jail expansion issue
• April 17 — Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017 to reverse 5-year trend
• April 17 — Douglas County counselor: Meeting with Justice Matters about proposed petition would not be appropriate
• April 17 — Despite campaign literature to the contrary, county officials confirm there’s no legal finding that Douglas County Jail must be expanded
• April 16 — Douglas County legal counselor finds proposed Justice Matters petition legally invalid, but group says it can be fixed
• April 16 — What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour
• April 15 — Speakers at criminal justice, behavioral health forum look beyond jail expansion, crisis center
• April 14 — County-funded training expands number of peer-support specialists to share ‘been there, got better’ message
• April 11 — Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem
• April 9 — Douglas County Commission may be forced to put new mental health, tax plan on November ballot
• March 25 — Increasing population at Douglas County jail at odds with national trend
• March 22 — Advocacy group forms to support county referendum on jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives
• March 21 — Douglas County District Court chief judge defends court’s processes, agrees serious felony crime is increasing
• March 12 — County’s pretrial release, home-arrest programs diverting large numbers from jail, but not enough to prevent overcrowding
• March 11 — DA was more likely to grant a diversion in 2017, but number of people seeking them declined
• March 6 — Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offering jail tours, presentations in advance of spring referendum
• March 5 — Online behavioral health care site available free to county residents pending referendum outcome
• March 4 — Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says
• March 3 — Activist groups kick off their campaign against jail expansion
• March 1 — Town Talk: Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion
• Feb. 21 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says
• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says
• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax
• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject
• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them
• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax
• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding
• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question
• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there
• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives
• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court
• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually
• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County
• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health
• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot
• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming
• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery
• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH
• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan
• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design
• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds
• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say
• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars
• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects
• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget
• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests
• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority