The Pierce County Council has rejected a call to send a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to voters in November.
The advisory measure would have asked voters if the council should raise the sales tax for five years to support mental health and chemical dependency treatment programs. Council members agree those services are hurting.
“The needs don’t just disappear (in a recession),” said Councilman Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma. “Sometimes they get worse.”
But the measure failed on a 2-5 vote Tuesday. A majority of council members said mental health funding is the state’s responsibility and now isn’t the time to raise the local sales taxes beyond its current rate of 9.3 percent.
“I don’t know that it will ever be time to raise our sales tax more than 9.3 percent,” said Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup.
Funding for mental health services has been a persistent problem in Pierce County. In 2007 the county ended its long-standing contract with the state to provide mental health services, citing inadequate state funding.
Earlier this year, the state chose a Minnesota firm to administer mental health services for about 15,000 Pierce County residents who couldn’t afford to pay for care. But with state budgets tight, advocates say mental health services are suffering.
Farrell said he proposed the sales tax measure to give the county options for improving services at a time of tight budgets.
The sales tax increase would have generated an estimated $12 million a year for mental health services. Though Farrell’s proposal would have sought an advisory public vote, it would have been up to the council to raise the sales tax.
Council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, also supported the ballot measure. Though he said he wouldn’t necessarily support a sales tax increase, he said he doesn’t fear seeking public opinion on the issue.
But a majority of the council wouldn’t even go that far. Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, said the measure was not well thought out. And like other council members, he said mental health funding is a state responsibility.
“I don’t think it’s our job to bail out the state,” Bunney said.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341