Mental health care is a rising concern throughout the country and in Washington state, with discussions of how to provide services and support taking place on local, state and national levels.
Pierce County Council member Derek Young provided a behavioral health update to the Gig Harbor City Council at Monday night’s meeting, outlining the plan and upcoming vote that the Pierce County Council will hold at its Dec. 13 meeting on implementing the behavioral health tax in Pierce County.
“This is an issue we’ve been talking about for a number of months at the Pierce County Council,” Young said. “We’ve reached kind of a critical point here (in) Pierce County.”
In his presentation, Young noted that numbers on homelessness in Pierce County have been sharply rising since 2010, with chronically homeless persons rising 163 percent, survivors of domestic violence up 159 percent and unsheltered persons (those homeless people living outside) up 192 percent.
Contributing to this rise in homelessness and other mental health issues is the widespread opioid epidemic, with 704 people dying from opioid overdoses between 2005 and 2014.
“We’re actually seeing it drive up more in rural parts of the county,” Young said. “We have a high need ... to provide more assistance around opioid addiction.”
Young stated that Washington state ranks 48th in the nation for prevalence of mental health services compared to access of care.
The behavioral health tax has already been adopted by several neighboring counties, including King and Kitsap counties, as well as the city of Tacoma, providing Pierce County with several examples of how to implement the tax to provide more services and support.
The tax would be a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase that would generate about $11 million, with an estimated per-person tax cost of $17 annually and $46 annually per household.
Application of the funds and improvements would take place gradually, to ensure a sustainable program.
Young identified that areas where the funds would be spent include wellness, prevention, early intervention and treatment, crisis management, recovery and reentry programming, system improvements and therapeutic courts.
“We’re going to try to spread this as equitably as possible,” Young said. “Treatment needs to be county-wide. It needs to go where the need is.”
2016 Comprehensive plan amendments and Smith Development agreement
The Council approved the 2016 Comprehensive Plan amendments and Smith Development Agreement, presented by Senior Planner Lindsey Sehmel.
The comprehensive plan amendments include a proposal to remove the mixed use land designation for a property along Burnham Drive, a text amendment for the Arts Commission and a land use map amendment and development agreement, known as the Smith Development Agreement.
“I’m supporting this because I think it’s a very good compromise for what could happen to the property,” said Councilman Paul Kadzik. “I think this is a reasonable compromise allowing a property owner to exercise the rights he should be able to on that property.”
The comprehensive plan amendment package passed, with Councilman Casey Arbenz voting nay, and the Smith Land Use Agreement passed with Council members Arbenz and Ken Malich voting nay.
2017-2018 biennial budget
Discussion and debate surrounding the 2017-2018 biennial budget continued between the City Council and staff with a presentation from David Rodenbach, the city’s finance director.
Included in the budget presented Monday were staff reclassifications and additions, including the hiring of three police officers in 2017 and one in 2018.
The Council requested several changes be made to the proposed budget, and discussions for the budget will continue at a special City Council meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday (Dec. 5).