The amount of money Pierce County Council members intend to spend on local behavioral health services this year is a number that keeps shrinking.
In December, council members were poised to dedicate more than $10 million annually to beef up local behavioral health services — but a last-minute change of heart from then-Councilwoman Joyce McDonald killed a 0.1 of 1 percent sales tax increase after a year of debate.
In March, newly elected County Executive Bruce Dammeier proposed a supplemental budget adjustment that would pump $4.7 million into local behavioral health programs.
Tuesday, council members took a preliminary vote to slice the figure down to $1.45 million. A 5-2 majority supported an amendment by Council Chairman Doug Richardson to erase most of the proposals from Dammeier. Councilmen Derek Young and Rick Talbert voted no.
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Richardson’s amendment, if adopted as part of a supplemental budget, would eliminate a proposed $2.7 million for a short-stay, 16-bed crisis diversion center, as well as a pair of vans manned by a mobile crisis team of “behavioral health first responders.”
Also absent from Richardson’s amendment is $500,000 intended to improve the Roosevelt Barracks at the Orting Soldiers Home, and provide temporary housing and services for homeless veterans.
Richardson’s amendment, if adopted as part of a supplemental budget, would eliminate a proposed $2.7 million for a short-stay, 16-bed crisis diversion center, as well as a pair of vans manned by a mobile crisis team of “behavioral health first responders.”Also absent from Richardson’s amendment is $500,000 intended to improve the Roosevelt Barracks at the Orting Soldiers Home, and provide temporary housing and services for homeless veterans.
Instead, the amendment would double the contribution to a planned 120-bed psychiatric hospital jointly operated by MultiCare and CHI Franciscan in Tacoma. Dammeier had proposed contributing $500,000 to the facility, which proponents initially said could be funded entirely with private money.
Richardson’s amendment would raise the county’s contribution to $1 million. He said the prospect of a crisis center of some sort within the MultiCare-Franciscan facility might be a better fit than Dammeier’s proposal.
The remaining money would split three ways:
▪ $100,000 for a new county employee – a full-time behavioral health manager.
▪ $200,000 for an evaluation of Dammeier’s mobile crisis team concept.
▪ $150,000 for a pilot program overseen by MultiCare, which operates a mobile outreach crisis team in Puyallup.
A parade of speakers spent two hours commenting on Richardson’s amendment Tuesday. Milton Mayor Debra Perry said the county needed to address what she called a crisis smaller cities can’t handle alone.
Connie Brown, executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium, suggested that council members were putting off the problem and putting more money into studies rather than services (in 2016, the county paid $64,000 for a study of behavioral health needs).
“It looks like we are racing to the bottom spending money on studies,” she said. “I think we’ve got enough studies.”
It looks like we are racing to the bottom spending money on studies. I think we’ve got enough studies.
Connie Brown, Executive Director, Tacoma-Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium
Richardson, sensitive to the point, said his amendment backed an “investigation” of Dammeier’s mobile crisis proposal to test its effectiveness.
“We’re not doing another study,” he said. “If that’s what was articulated today, that’s on me, and it’s not what I’m attempting to do.”
Talbert and Young still hope to restore the funding in Dammeier’s original proposal — that debate is still ahead.
“I know what we’re doing right now has been tremendously unsuccessful,” Talbert said. “It has been tremendously undervalued and under-resourced.”
Young called Dammeier’s original budget proposal a starting point on the path “to build up a barely adequate behavioral health system.”
Tuesday’s vote doesn’t end the debate. Apart from Richardson’s amendment, 15 more are on the table. The council won’t take them up in public again until June 6 at the earliest. A final vote on the supplemental budget will likely follow.
Richardson and Councilman Dan Roach underlined the timing in separate statements, noting that the final version of a supplemental budget and associated mental health services is likely to shift as each of the amendments come up for consideration.
Technically, the council doesn’t have to vote on a supplemental budget at all. By summer, members will be debating the full 2018 budget. Richardson noted that many of the specific discussions about mental health services will get a fuller airing then.
“We are committed here,” he said Tuesday. “This is not push it out into the fourth quarter.”