Kremen OKs one-tenth of 1 percent mental health tax
After considering a possible veto, Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen signed an ordinance that will increase the county sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent to support mental health and substance abuse programs.
Initially Kremen said he was torn and that there were compelling arguments to both sign and veto the ordinance, but later said he knew what was right, signing the ordinance on Monday, July 28.
“Upon deep reflection I have concluded that signing the ordinance into law is consistent with my faith and core values and is ultimately the right thing to do,” Kremen said in a press release. “As a community, we have an obligation to help those who are unable to help themselves.”
At the July 22 county council meeting, council members were divided about the tax, with some wanting to send the issue to the public for a vote.
After nearly a five-hour public hearing, however, council member Sam Crawford, who is usually opposed to raising taxes, switched his vote at the last minute and approved the tax. The ordinance passed 4-3 putting the final decision on Kremen.
“Using our scarce criminal justice resources to deal with those afflicted with mental health and chemical dependence issues is neither appropriate nor cost effective,” Kremen said in support of the tax.
The increased sales tax will help fund new chemical dependency and mental health treatment services and the operation of a new therapeutic court program.
These programs will supply treatment, housing and case management services that focus on prevention and reduction of chronic homelessness and unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice and emergency medical systems, as well as promote recovery for persons with disabling mental illness and chemical dependency.
The new tax, which will take effect January 1, 2009, means that for every $10 spent, one cent is generated for the program – gas and food are not included.
The next step is for the county to form an 11-member committee comprised of mental health, health care, law enforcement and substance abuse professionals to decide how the new funds will be allocated.