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Mental health board pushes for new tax

Wednesday, September 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mental health advocates in Boone County are gearing up for another attempt to pass a tax to help fund mental health needs, such as a lack of services for children and adolescents or additional programs for mentally ill inmates in the county’s correctional facilities.

Though it has not been determined how much the proposed tax would be or how exactly it would be divided among mental health providers and agencies, the Boone County Mental Health Board of Trustees set a goal to hopefully have the tax on a ballot within the next 18 months. However, not everyone is convinced of its necessity.

Before the tax can appear on a ballot, it must be approved by the Boone County Commission. The commission has been instrumental in helping to identify the mental health needs of the county. Commissioner Skip Elkin said the commission began to work toward conducting an assessment of those needs as early as 2001.

“I think the commission realized there were sizeable gaps in services, with the Department of Mental Health budget cuts and some local providers basically closing their doors,” Elkin said. “We wanted to find out what those gaps were.”

Through a competitive bidding process, the contract to assess the county’s mental health needs was awarded to Behavioral Health Concepts Inc., which subsequently released the Boone County Mental Health Needs Assessment in March. The commission approved the needs assessment last week.

On Monday, the board discussed addressing the problems outlined in the needs assessment by possibly proposing a tax.

Elkin said he thought other options should be examined before a tax is considered.

“I think the mental health board has a tremendous amount of work on identifying all the providers, identifying the populations that are underserved and trying to link up the resources with those populations,” Elkin said. “At that time, if we are still short, we need to find different resources, a mill tax being one of those possible resources. You can’t just go out and ask for a tax without coming up with a plan.”

The board attempted to pass such a tax in April 1994, but the effort failed after more than 72 percent of voters cast their ballots against it. That proposed tax would have been 8 cents per $100 of assessed property value, and was projected to raise $670,000 for various mental health services.

Roland Meinert, the board’s current chairman, said he thought the failure to pass the taxmay have been due to the lack of public education about mental health needs in Boone County.

“The board did not explain adequately why it was necessary to have funds for mental health,” Meinert said. “We will not make that mistake again.”

Meinert told theboard Monday that after months of review a subcommittee of the board agreed on what they considered to be the major mental health needs on which they wanted to focus. Meinert reported these needs as major talking points and the board agreed to pursue a mill tax to help cover these needs. While the board did not discuss specifics, such as how much the tax would be, when it will be voted on or how they would delegate the funds it is intended to raise, it was agreed that the board could not repeat the mistakes made in 1994.

“One of the things the mental health board will be doing in the coming months will be developing a plan to go about community education,” Meinert said. “We don’t have a plan yet.”

The board did not determine any specifics concerning the public education campaign, except that there will be a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters to educate the public about the needs assessment and its findings at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Columbia Public Library. Meinert also presented the needs assessment to the Boone County Community Services Advisory Committee at its meeting Tuesday night.

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