County Commission advances behavioral health sales tax ballot question

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 approved ballot language Wednesday for a referendum to be placed before voters in the November general election asking for approval of a quarter-cent sales tax that would fund construction of a behavioral health campus and programming.

It is the second referendum the county has advanced this year. Voters defeated Proposition 1 in May, which would have authorized the county to collect an additional half-cent sales tax to fund a $44 million jail expansion, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5 million in behavioral health services. The campus would have included a behavioral health crisis center, a transitional group home and an eight- to 10-unit apartment complex available to those with behavioral health issues.

The quarter-cent sales tax voters will be asked to approve in the latest ballot question would raise an estimated $4.9 million in annual revenue, which is $877,000 less than the Proposition 1 would have provided for campus construction debt retirement and programming.

Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects, said he and the county’s partnering mental health and substance abuse agencies were on board with the proposed referendum and ready to build on the progress started this year with the $1.5 million in new behavioral health funding commissioners put in the 2018 budget.

“If the community cares about mental health, we are going to make tremendous progress the next five years,” he said.

Tryanski said he would share a plan next month of how to downsize the Proposition 1 behavioral health proposal to fit $4.9 million in annual funding. That would include downsizing the size of the 20,000-square-foot crisis center envisioned in Proposition 1.

Tryanski said he would also recommend altering the timing and sequencing of introducing new programming. Because new programming comes with one-time startup costs, all envisioned services eventually could be introduced if some were initially delayed, he said. Priority would be given to crisis care and supported housing, he said.

The ballot language states that the county would start collecting the quarter-cent sales tax on April 1, 2019, or as soon thereafter as legally allowed. That is different from the Jan. 1, 2019, start date that County Administrator Craig Weinaug shared with the Journal-World on Tuesday. Weinaug and Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the county hadn’t confirmed the collection start date.

In other business, county commissioners declined the $40,000 that two anonymous donors have offered through the faith-based activist group Justice Matters to help with the cost of a comprehensive study of the county’s criminal justice system.

“I want to be very clear: Any study into the criminal justice system will be paid for by taxpayer dollars,” said County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman. “Our willingness or lack of willingness to engage any study is not determined by lack of available funding.”

Commissioner Mike Gaughan added the clarification that the county would accept grant funding if agencies applied for or shared the cost of studies with other jurisdictions, when appropriate.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.