Voters overwhelmingly approve sales tax to fund behavioral health campus, services

photo by: Treanor Architects graphic/Contributed Image

These plans for a behavioral health campus on West Second Street between Alabama and Maine streets show a 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis intervention center on the left, a transitional home in the center and 10 long-term housing units on the right.

Douglas County voters overwhelmingly approved a quarter-cent sales tax Tuesday that will fund a behavioral health campus and a slate of enhanced mental health and drug treatment services.

The question that appeared on the ballot as Proposition 1 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote.

The Douglas County Commission agreed in July to put the question on the general election ballot. That decision came after a May referendum in which voters rejected a half-cent sales tax to fund a behavioral health campus and enhanced services, as well as a $44 million expansion of the county jail.

Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said Tuesday’s ballot question was a success because the county’s leaders listened to the message voters sent in May.

“I think we learned with the first effort that county voters wanted a clean, simple vote, so the mental health measures were on the ballot,” she said. “That is what we agreed to give them.”

Unlike the question voters rejected in May, there was no organized opposition to the second Proposition 1. In fact, three groups who led the opposition in May — the faith-based activist group Justice Matters, the social justice advocacy group Kansas Appleseed and taxpayer watchdog group Lawrence Sunset Alliance — were supportive of the second ballot question. 

Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said last month that the tax would take effect April 1, 2019.

The quarter-cent sales tax will provide the county an estimated $4.9 million of revenue a year. The majority of the sales tax revenue, $4.15 million, will be used to pay for operational costs at the new behavioral health campus and for new programming for mental health and drug addiction in the county, while $750,000 will be used to pay off the debt incurred for the construction of the campus.

Thellman said the behavioral health campus will be built on West Second Street just north of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center headquarters. It will have a crisis center, a transitional group home and an eight- to 10-unit apartment complex reserved for those with behavioral health issues. The housing units are expected to open next year, while the crisis center will open in 2021, Thellman said.


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