The fight to get local funding for a 120-bed psychiatric hospital proposed for Tacoma just got a little harder.
By rejecting a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund mental health and chemical dependency programs last week, the Pierce County Council eliminated the funding source some of its members wanted to use to generate $1.75 million for the hospital.
The vote also sends a mixed message to other South Sound leaders who were waiting to see if the county would contribute money, said Tim Thompson, a local marketing and management consultant hired to lobby for public and private donations for the hospital.
“Everyone is going to be looking at this council action last night and say ‘Why is it that they won’t even address their own problem?’ ” Thompson said a day after the Dec. 13 vote.
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“There is no question this action has made it difficult on everyone,” he said.
MultiCare and CHI Franciscan, the South Sound’s two regional health care giants, have proposed the private psychiatric hospital for the Allenmore hospital campus. The hospital is estimated to cost more than $40 million.
The partnership has the money to build the hospital, but a South Sound Behavioral Health Coalition that supports the project asked South Sound cities and the county to contribute financially to generate community buy-in.
Everyone is going to be looking at this council action last night and say, ‘Why is it that they won’t even address their own problem?’
Tim Thompson, spokesman for the South Sound Behavioral Health Coalition
“The hospitals are putting in the lion’s share of the money. But it’s important to get other people to participate because it means they’ll also work toward a solution,” said County Executive-elect Bruce Dammeier, a member of the coalition.
“To think this is somebody else’s problem is not good in the long run,” he said.
Once in office, Dammeier will look to the 2017 budget to find at least some of $1.75 million the coalition requested for the hospital, he said.
“It’s a leadership issue if nothing else,” he said. “The county needs to be in a leadership role with this. It’s less the amount of money and more the participation.”
Council Democrats Connie Ladenburg of Tacoma, Derek Young of Gig Harbor, Rick Talbert of Tacoma and Republican council Chairman Doug Richardson of Lakewood agree.
But they don’t know how easy it will be to find money for the hospital in the approved 2017 budget.
“I was thinking of picking up the entire ask with the tax,” Richardson said of the $1.75 million request.
Ladenburg tried to set aside $200,000 in the 2017 budget as a “good faith” gesture to signal the county’s support for the project, but she said Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, discouraged the move, saying hospital funding would be addressed with the mental health tax.
McDonald was seen as the pivotal vote needed to approve the tax increase, which required a supermajority of five votes to pass. She, along with Republicans Dan Roach of Bonney Lake and Jim McCune of Graham, voted against the tax increase, prompting its failure.
The county needs to be in a leadership role with this. It’s less the amount of money and more the participation.
Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County executive-elect
The tax would have generated just over $10 million in 2017. The county also would have received $1.5 million from the state, an incentive offered by the Legislature to encourage approval of the sales tax increase before June 30.
The state money could have been put toward the hospital’s $1.75 million request.
Now the council will have to decide whether to revisit the budget and take money away from other programs and projects to support the hospital.
“I have no idea where we would come up with the money,” Young said. “It is possible we could do some lesser amount, but we fight over $10,000 to $15,000 appropriations. So the idea we have $1.75 million lying around, that’s just not the case.”
Tacoma, which collects the mental health tax, included $1.5 million in its 2017 budget for the hospital, and Auburn pledged $400,000.
Despite the setback dealt by the tax rejection, Thompson said the coalition’s request “has always been separate from the tax.”
“I am still confident we can work toward a solution with the county,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m an optimist, and I’m going to keep trying to persuade the people who voted against it.”