Tacoma City Council approves sales tax increase to pay for mental health services

Tacoma City Council unanimously approved a one-tenth of one percent sales tax Tuesday night that will ensure ongoing funding for current mental health programs and allow the creation of new or expanded services for those in Tacoma with mental illness or chemical dependency issues.

The tax, which will add one penny to a $10 purchase, will go into effect on July 1. It is projected to raise more than $600,000 in 2012 and approximately $2.6 million in 2013.

“Our community is passionate, inclusive and we have to support each other,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “This has an opportunity to save people’s lives. This really fulfills our goal of building social capital.”

“This is an important thing to do,” said Councilmember Victoria Woodards, the chair of City Council’s  Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee. “We don’t have all the answers about how every penny will be spent right now, but we cannot afford to wait any longer. We are stepping up to do our jobs tonight.”

City Council’s vote followed a public comment period where a number of people shared their personal stories about fighting to overcome mental illness and chemical dependency.

Nineteen counties throughout Washington impose a similar tax to support mental health services on a countywide basis. Pierce County has not imposed such a countywide tax.

City staff will report back to City Council by April 24 with a detailed process for assessing mental health service gaps and the method by which programs will be selected for new and expanded services. The process will focus on specific outcomes and measurements for all programs. By May, the City plans to convene a group of experts to assist in the gap analysis for areas of greatest need. The shift in funding for existing services will begin in July.

Requests for proposals for new and expanded services will be published in late fall for services to begin in January 2013.