COLUMBIA — The people behind Boone County's Putting Kids First initiative have collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition they hope will finally get a proposed mental health services tax on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The volunteer organization has worked to gather an estimated 6,200 signatures to date. If the petition can reach its target of 6,703 signatures by July 31 — and the signatures are validated by the Boone County clerk — voters will see the proposed sales tax in November.
Those who want to sign the Putting Kids First petition can visit Lutheran Family and Children's Services, 401 West Blvd. N. or any of the following local agencies:
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Boone County Juvenile Office
Boys and Girls Club
Boys and Girls Town of Missouri
Burrell Behavioral Health
Children's Foundation of Mid America
Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services
Coyote Hill Christian Children's Home
Family Counseling Center
Family Health Center
First Chance for Children
Missouri Psychiatric Center: Outpatient Clinic
MU Psychological Services Clinic
Parents as Teachers
Pathways Community Behavioral Healthcare
Preferred Family Healthcare
The Shelter/True North
The group also will be circulating petitions in front of the post office downtown, the Columbia Public Library and local events that benefit children.
With less than three weeks left before the deadline, Christine Corcoran hopes that the milder weather will help her small team gather the remaining 500 signatures.
"For the most part, people are really supportive," Corcoran said. "I'd say the heat has probably been our biggest obstacle. That and time. Many of the people volunteering are agency staff doing this in addition to their 60-hour-a-week job. We just don't have a lot of time."
The proposed quarter-cent sales tax would be twice the amount proposed in a similar ballot issue that failed in 1994. A quarter-cent tax would add 2.5 cents to the cost of a $10 purchase.
Corcoran, director of Lutheran Family and Children's Services and committee member of Putting Kids First, wants the public to understand the intrinsic value of this tax if approved.
"The entire community can benefit from this, not just people with children," she said.
In 2007, the Boone County Mental Health Board discussed whether to ask voters for a sales tax, but the talks didn't go far. That board disbanded in March.
Local attorney Tim Harlan, president of the Missouri branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and legal adviser for Putting Kids First, served on the mental health board. He said its failure to get a tax passed stemmed from a lack of board authority and a lack of information on the part of the public.
"Unfortunately the (mental health) problems have gotten worse, but that has helped us get more support," Harlan said. "More groups are interested in helping."
Harlan thinks that informing voters will be key to getting the tax passed if it makes it onto the ballot.
"I think the issue is to explain the need," Harlan said. "People will respond favorably once they realize the needs are not being met."
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