Mental Health Board hopes to get property tax passed

Friday, November 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:49 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

In 1994, 72 percent of Boone County residents voted against a tax to advance local mental health service needs. But the Boone County Mental Health Board is mobilizing again, hoping a more specific plan will help the measure pass this time around.

“(The board) didn’t prioritize. They didn’t know how the money would be spent,” Board Chairman Roldan Mienert said. “We will not move ahead this time until we are confident this tax will pass.”

Meinert presented these ideas to more than 30 residents Thursday night at Columbia Public Library in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. If the property tax is implemented, it would call for an 8 cent charge on every $100 of assessed property value.

“We’re not talking about taxing people to death here,” Meinert said.

Meinert told residents about four “indisputable” facts:

— Local population has increased 20 percent from 1990 to 2000.

— Needs for Mental Health ser-vices have increased “at a fairly rapid rate.”

— Capacity at hospitals remains stable, but outpatient services are stretched.

— Funding for the Department of Mental Health has declined 25 percent since the mid-1980s.

With these facts come conse-quences for local residents and care facilities.

“There are waiting lists at some facilities,” Meinert said. “And sometimes they are turning people away.”

The board hasn’t decided what the priorities are, Meinert said, but it has a “whole laundry list” of issues to consider.

A county-funded survey con-ducted last February shows the need to focus on inpatient and outpatient services for children and adolescents. Family life is being disrupted and school performance suffers in some cases, the survey showed.

Meinhert said more focus is needed for coordination, education and advocacy for complex mental illness and substance problems that cross agency boundaries.

The board also wants to encour-age treatment for those seeking mental health treatment who are “not served or underserved.” This includes African Americans, Lati-nos, rural residents, homeless, and residents with disabilities.

For now, the board’s first hurdle is to get approval from the Boone County Commission, so its tax will be on a ballot.

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin isn’t concerned about the tax quite yet. He said there are other things to consider before looking at the specifics.

“We are looking at utilizing exist-ing resources and different grants,” said Elkin, the commission’s contact to the board. “It’s premature to talk about a tax right now.”

Speakers at Thursday’s forum included Mienert, former state representative Tim Harlan, MU Department of Psychiatry Chair-man Bernard Beitman and State Mental Health Commissioner Mary Lou Bussabarger. Residents were able to get some answers during a question and answer session in between the speeches.

League member Barbara Allen said she is interested in what the board is planning.

“I’m really aware of the need and I know these gentlemen will have some answers,” said Allen, a retired social worker.

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