Voters Guide: Proposition 1 seeks nearly $5 million in sales taxes for mental health programs

photo by: Chris Conde

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

As voters fill out general election ballots, they may have a sense of deja vu. On a ballot for the second time this year is a Proposition 1, asking residents to approve a sales tax to fund construction of a behavioral health campus.

However, there are significant differences in the ballot question county voters rejected in May and the one before them in the current general election. The most notable is the absence of any language authorizing an expansion of the county jail. The May referendum would have authorized a $44 million addition to the county jail.

The current ballot question’s focus on stand-alone behavioral health needs appears to have quelled or won over the organized opposition. Rose Schmidt, a board member of faith-based activist group Justice Matters, which fought against the May ballot question, said the group supports the second Proposition 1.

Also different in the two Proposition 1 questions is the size of the sales tax that voters will be asked to authorize. The May ballot question requested a half-cent tax, while the new question requests a quarter-cent tax.

Here is a look at some questions and answers related to the sales tax proposal:

The tax

Q. When will the additional quarter-cent tax go into effect, and how much would it raise?

A. If the tax is approved, it will become effective on April 1, 2019, and the county will get its first revenue from the tax about three months later, Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said.

The tax would raise $4.9 million annually at the county’s current rate of retail activity, Plinsky estimated.

Q. How would the tax revenue be used?

A. The county would use $750,000 annually to make payments on the 20-year bonds issued to develop the $11 million campus. The remaining $4.15 million would be spent on operational costs associated with the campus or on new behavioral health intervention or preventive programming.

Q. Will cities get a share of the sales tax as they do with the county’s current 1-cent sales tax?

A. No. The county advanced Proposition 1 based on Kansas statute K.S.A. 12-187 et seq. The statute allows counties to ask voters to approve sales taxes of quarter-, half- or one-cent increments to use for mental health facilities and needs without sharing the revenue with their municipalities.

Q. What would be the sales tax rates in the county if Proposition 1 is approved?

A. With an additional quarter cent, the sales tax collected on a $1 purchase would be 9.30 cents in Lawrence, 9 cents in Baldwin City, 9.5 cents in Eudora and Lecompton and 7.25 cents in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Q.Will the sales tax sunset?

A. No. Douglas County commissioners agreed it would not be wise to include a sunset clause in the referendum language when the needs would be ongoing

The behavioral health campus

Q. Where would the behavioral health campus be built?

A. The campus would be built on the north side of West Second Street in Lawrence, across from the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center building. The site in the 1000 block of West Second Street is just northeast of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. It would be located on land Bert Nash owns and the former Lawrence school district maintenance yard the county acquired in exchange for its old public works yard on 23rd Street.

Q. What would be built on the campus?

A. Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects, said the campus would include a behavioral health crisis center, a transitional group home and eight to 10 apartments. The housing units would be reserved for those with behavioral health issues.

Q. What’s been added to the previous plan developed for the May ballot question?

A. Tryanski said the plan calls for a 10-bed detoxification unit to be built at DCCCA for female clients of that agency and for two crisis beds to be added to the transitional group home.

Q. Would the quarter-cent sales tax pay for all the new buildings on the campus?

A. No. The Douglas County Commission approved an agreement last year with the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority that will have the county build the apartment complex and then be fully reimbursed from funds the housing authority saved through its efficient management of federal grants in the past. Also, the transitional group home will be built with a $500,000 city of Lawrence affordable housing grant and $400,000 from the county’s 2019 budget, which included $1.9 million for behavioral health projects.

Q. What would the crisis center include?

A. The 20,000-square-foot crisis center would include an eight-bed crisis treatment and recovery unit, an observational relaxation room with recliners and a six-bed detoxification unit.

Q.When would the new facilities be opened?

A. Tryanski said the group home and apartments would open in 2019 and the crisis center in 2021.

Q. How much would it cost to provide services and operate the new facilities?

A. Tryanski estimates the annual net operating cost of the crisis center to be $2.87 million and the cost of the group home to be $61,000. Those costs will be paid for through the sales tax. The housing authority plans to cover its expenses through use of federal housing vouchers and Medicaid.

Other services

Q. What intervention services are planned?

A. Tryanski said one of the goals of the initiative is to bring services to where they are needed through an after-hours mobile response team that will respond to those in behavioral health crisis throughout the county. Its annual cost is estimated to be $571,000. Also planned is a behavioral health 24-hour crisis line, operated in partnership with Headquarters Inc., at the estimated annual cost of $179,000 and the extension of WRAP counseling available in the Lawrence school district to Baldwin City and Eudora schools at the cost of $260,000 annually.

Q. What preventative measures are planned and what are their costs?

A. The current plan proposes spending $170,000 on preventive services, Tryanski said. That would include one-time start-up costs for future pilot programs that the county’s $1.9 million annual behavioral health allocation could cover, he said. The current plan does call for a Zero Suicide initiative that would provide uniform screening for suicide risk factors. The county will also pay to make the online behavioral health counseling app myStrength available to residents.


Q. How was the overall plan adjusted to account for the $800,000 reduction in revenue available in the second Proposition 1?

A. Tryanski said a planned six-bed sobering unit where individuals could sleep off drug or alcohol intoxication was eliminated. The planned response team was reduced from a 24-hour to an after-hours unit. Also, the county is using $400,000 in general county budget money — instead of sales tax dollars as originally proposed — to pay for the group home. In addition, a reduction of Bert Nash staff positions in the group home is estimated to produce a savings of $100,000.

More coverage

For more coverage of county government news, please see:

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