COLUMBIA — The Boone County Mental Health Board of Trustees has effectively disbanded after its last meeting in March. The dissolution of the board comes as a community coalition is working to place a tax on the November ballot that would fund mental health services for children.
In March, the board held a meeting meant to allow feedback and thoughts on how it could improve. Over the years, fewer and fewer meetings filled quorum, meaning not enough members arrived to make the sessions official.
When the feedback meeting failed to produce a quorum, board co-chair Michele Kennett said it served as an indicator of the board's condition.
The debilitating factor for the board has been a lack of funding for programs and activities it wants to support, Kennett said. Without this, activity is severely limited, she said.
Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller said unless the board has a specific purpose, it's difficult to keep asking members to give their time to it.
Board member Jeanne Jarrett described her surprise at the lack of funding and programs for mental health when she moved to Boone County in 2008. She described other counties with a mental health tax, such as Jackson County, which passed a mental health tax levy in 1981.
Since the board could do so little, Jarrett said it had more of an advisory role to the mental health community.
"I was kind of disappointed," she said.
Citizens originally asked to set up the board to conduct research and ultimately put the Mental Health Mill Tax proposal on the ballot, Miller said. This proposition for a one-eighth cent property tax appeared in the April 1994 election and received 80 percent opposition. A similar proposition in 2007 didn't make it past the conversation stage, Kennett said.
Since the proposal failed in 1994, the board has been unable to muster enough resources and community support to merit the cost of another election, Miller said.
That's why, she said, the Boone County Putting Kids First initiative needs a petition with 6,703 signatures of registered voters before it can put a tax on the ballot. In order to account for duplicates and non-valid signatures, the organization is aiming for 7,500 signatures, Putting Kids First committee member Christine Corcoran said.
"You have to build up your base of support," Miller said.
The Putting Kids First initiative is working to pass a one-fourth cent increase in the Boone County sales tax rate to fund mental health programs and care for children. This is part of legislation — already passed by the state — that allows each county to decide whether they want to apply the tax.
Kennett and three other Boone County Mental Health Board members work with Putting Kids First, Corcoran said.
"It was my understanding that she'd go back and report" to the board, Corcoran said. Otherwise, there were no formal partnerships or agreements between the board and Putting Kids First, she said.
If the Putting Kids First initiative were to pass, the funding would not go to the Boone County Mental Health Board. Instead, the statute requires that a separate nine-member board would be created to distribute funds.
Kennett said she doesn't see the board's disbanding affecting Putting Kids First, since the two organizations are independent of one another and have different focuses.
"The issues of the mental health board isn't related to a lack of importance of mental health," Kennett said.
When the board met for the last time, feedback from present members indicated that the board wanted to either join another entity or go dormant until needed. The board has considered merging with the Board of Health for Columbia and Boone County, Kennett said.
The Board of Health discussed the possible merger at its June meeting with trepidation. It's more than likely that the board will not accept the suggested merge, Miller said.
At this point, the board is disbanded in practice—though not officially—and is pending a decision on its next course of action. If the Mental Health Board doesn't merge with the Board of Health , Kennett said the board will consider other organizations with which it can join.
Otherwise, Kennett said, the board will be deactivated until conditions change to merit reactivation.
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