County Commission to resume discussion on behavioral health ballot question options
photo by: Treanor Architects
The Douglas County Commission will further consider on Wednesday three options for placing a ballot question before voters in November to fund a behavioral health campus.
Commissioners agreed last week to schedule the meeting for 6 p.m. to give more residents an opportunity to attend and voice opinions.
Commissioners started discussion last week on advancing a ballot question for the November general election on the behavioral health campus. The $11 million campus and $44 million jail expansion were part of Proposition 1, which county voters rejected in May.
The campus would be built in the 1000 block of West Second Street, just north of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. It would have a crisis intervention center, as well as transitional and long-term housing.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the behavioral health projects envisioned in Proposition 1 would require $5 million a year in programming and $750,000 annually to pay off the bonds that would finance construction.
Weinaug presented commissioners last week with three statutory options the county could use to advance a ballot question. They were:
• The half-cent sales tax under the same statutory authority used in Proposition 1.
• A quarter-cent sales tax under the statutory authority that Mary Carson, an attorney hired by the faith-based group Justice Matters, brought to the county’s attention. That authority also allows the county to request a half-cent or 1-cent sales tax.
• A dedicated property tax of 4.3 mills.
Weinaug told commissioners last week all three options have flaws. The half-cent sales tax would raise $4 million more than the $5.75 million needed annually and the quarter-cent tax would raise about $800,000 less than needed. The property tax would delay construction of the campus because revenue from the additional mill levy wouldn’t be collected until 2020. Use of a half-cent sales tax option would require behavioral health programming to be scaled up beyond what was proposed in Proposition 1, while the quarter-cent option would require that the current plan be scaled back.
Weinaug said Tuesday that the quarter-cent sales tax option Carson identified could be used for all the behavioral health programming envisioned in Proposition 1.
Commissioner Nancy Thellman said the commission could make a basic decision at the meeting but not a final decision.
“I think it is fair to say we can reach a decision on whether to go forward on a November ballot question,” she said. “I am not ready to go forward on either a quarter- or half-cent sales tax.”
Before making that decision, she said she needed more information on what the quarter-cent sales tax could fund and more details on scaling up or down behavioral health programming.
If a ballot initiative is to be on the November ballot, commissioners have three or four weeks to agree on the ballot language to be delivered to the Douglas County Clerk’s Office, Thellman said.
Commissioners will also consider approving publication of the 2019 budget on Wednesday. The action will schedule an Aug. 8 public hearing on the budget.
The proposed published 2019 budget maintains the 2018 mill levy of 46.018 mills. At that rate, the county’s share of taxes on a $175,000 home is $926.
Commissioners set aside $3 million through cuts or reallocations to be used in 2019 for solutions to overcrowding at the county jail. Weinaug said at the start of 2019 budget deliberations that those solutions have not been identified and could include expansion or programming.
Thellman said commission discussion on jail overcrowding solutions would probably start once a final decision was made on the behavioral health ballot question.
“I’m interested in having that discussion, too,” she said. “We still have about 70 inmates farmed out to other counties. That number hasn’t changed.”