County Commission to decide which funding method for behavioral health projects will appear on ballot

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.

With a new option on the table, the Douglas County Commission will decide Wednesday what kind of tax it will ask voters to approve to fund a slate of behavioral health projects.

Last month, commissioners agreed they would put a ballot question on the November general election ballot asking voters to fund a behavioral health campus and expanded services. The decision came two months after county voters rejected Proposition 1, which would have funded a $44 million jail expansion, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5 million in additional behavioral health services.

However, when the commission decided to move forward with a ballot question, it had not settled on the form and amount of the tax increase that voters would be asked to approve.

A memo County Administrator Craig Weinaug sent to commissioners in advance of Wednesday’s meeting provides language for three possible ballot questions to fund the behavioral health campus and enhanced services. Two of the options were discussed in the past — stand-alone sales tax increases of either a quarter-cent or a half-cent. But commissioners will have a new option to consider Wednesday, as well: issuing $12.23 million in general obligation bonds to build the mental health facilities and using a quarter-cent sales tax to fund expanded services.

Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said the third option was developed after county staff explored the issue with the county’s bond counsel. When approving the issuance of general obligation bonds, county voters would be authorizing the use of property taxes to retire the debt, she said.

Weinaug wrote in the memo that annual debt payments of $877,000 (or a 0.65 mill increase) would be required to retire $12.23 million in bonds. A mill levy increase of 0.65 mills would raise taxes by $13.08 on a $175,000 home. Weinaug wrote that the quarter-cent sales tax would provide $4.93 million annually for services, which is just shy of the $5 million in services envisioned in Proposition 1.

The other two ballot question options, which were discussed in July, are:

• A quarter-cent sales tax under the statutory authority that Mary Carson, a Wichita attorney hired by the faith-based activist group Justice Matters, brought to the county’s attention on July 9. The stand-alone quarter-cent sales tax would generate $877,000 less than needed to fund the behavioral health initiatives envisioned in Proposition 1.

• A half-cent sales tax under the state statutory authority used to advance Proposition 1. A half-cent sales tax would raise an estimated $9.8 million annually, or $4 million more than needed for the behavioral health initiatives envisioned in Proposition 1.

Thellman said she was inclined to support the hybrid sales and property tax option, although she was disappointed it wouldn’t provide enough revenue for expanded children’s services.

“I am frustrated we are are not able to do more, but I’m probably leaning toward the quarter-cent sales tax/property tax because it has community support,” she said.

Earlier this month, Rose Schmidt, co-president of Justice Matters, told the Journal-World the group supported the quarter-cent sales tax proposal. However, Schmidt said the group would actively oppose any ballot question that advanced a half-cent sales tax.

Commissioners have agreed they will approve final ballot language at their Aug. 22 meeting once the funding method is decided.

In other business, the commission will consider adopting building code regulations for the construction of boat docks and swimming platforms at Lone Star Lake. Sean Reid, county zoning and codes department director, has presented commissioners with an addition to county codes that requires Lone Star Lake property owners to get a permit before building either a boat dock or swimming platform.

The meeting will be at the 6 p.m. time slot commissioners reserve for controversial agenda items or those requiring public hearings. The County Commission meets in the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.


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