County Commission to approve ballot language for fall behavioral health referendum

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday is expected to approve the language of a ballot question to be placed before voters in November that would finance construction of a behavioral health campus and fund additional mental-health and substance-abuse programs.

At its Aug. 15 meeting, commissioners agreed to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the behavioral health initiatives. County Administrator Craig Weinaug estimates the tax increase will raise $4.9 million in revenue annually.

Commissioners are scheduled to approve the ballot language at a 6 p.m. meeting. That will follow a regular 4 p.m. meeting at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Commissioners selected the quarter-cent tax over two other options, saying it was the most likely to win voter approval. The other options were a half-cent sales tax that would have raised an estimated $9.8 million annually and a quarter-cent sales tax and property tax combination, which would have raised an estimated $5.9 million annually.

If voters approve the ballot question, the county would start collecting the additional quarter-cent of sales tax in January 2019, Weinaug said. According to the current taxing rates posted on the Kansas Department of Revenue website, the additional quarter cent would raise the sales tax on a $1 retail sale to 9 cents in Baldwin City, 9.5 cents in Eudora and Lecompton, 9.25 cents in Lawrence and 7.25 cents in rural Douglas County.

County voters rejected in May the Proposition 1 ballot question that would have authorized a half-cent sales tax, which would have funded expansion of the county jail and provided $11 million to build the behavioral health campus and $5 million for additional mental-health and substance-abuse programming. Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said last week that the only architectural and programming plans for a behavioral health campus that the county currently has were developed to match the about $5.9 million in funding that Proposition 1 would have provided.

Thellman said the county was working with its community partners of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, DCCCA, Heartland Community Health Center and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to downsize the existing Proposition 1 plans to fit the $4.9 million that the quarter-cent sales tax would generate. Revised architectural and programming plans should be ready for public release in September, she said.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the county would start collecting the additional quarter-cent of sales tax in January 2019.

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