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Raising the sales tax to pay for mental health treatment

Donnell Jackson did “weird stuff,” according to his brother. He’d disappear for days, cut strange stories out of tabloid newspapers, and talk about the voices in his head that said someone was going to kill him.

After a Sounders game earlier this month a couple had the misfortune of walking by Jackson in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.

Prosecutors say Jackson stabbed Shoreline Community College professor Troy Wolff to death and injured Kristin Ito.

Jackson, who’s being held on $2 million bail, told detectives he is schizophrenic. Since then, his family has talked about the crime Jackson is accused of. They say something snapped.

“There probably isn’t anyone in any county that hasn’t had their lives touched somehow by issues involving mental health or substance abuse personally. It’s everywhere,” says Kitsap County Commissioner Robert Gelder.

Kitsap County commissioners voted unanimously recently to raise the sales tax by .01 percent with the money collected going directly to mental health programs.

That amounts to a one cent tax on a $10 purchase.

The last extensive study on the numbers of people who are mentally ill in our state was research conducted by the University of Washington about a decade ago. There were almost 190,000 known cases of serious mental illness among adults in our state, which represented about four percent of the population.

From a 2006 study, the Department of Health reported nine percent of adults experienced “poor mental health” such as stress, depression, or significant problems with emotions for 14 days or more in a month.

More recent statistics in Kitsap County point to a clear need, according to county leaders.

“When 19.7 percent of 10th graders in Kitsap County reported having serious thoughts about suicide in the past year, that’s pretty scary. I think about when I was a 10th grader,” Gelder says.

“I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or what the case may be, but that was so far from my reality at that point in time. It saddens me to think there are so many kids that are in a dire straight.”

The ordinance goes into effect January 1, 2014 and is expected to raise about $3 million per year. Gelder wants to make sure the money is put to good use.

“We want to have measurable impacts. If something doesn’t materialize, we don’t want to fund it again unless the course is changed and a new approach is tried,” he says.

Money for mental health programs won’t start coming in until the middle of next year. Between now and then a citizen advisory committee will now vet programs to be funded with the new tax revenue.

“My biggest concern is that people will think now that we’ve passed it, it’s going to cure everything,” says Gelder.

“That’s not possible. Relatively speaking it’s a small investment in this overall issue.”



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