Gee and Ursula question King County’s mental health crisis response plan
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new behavioral health crisis response plan that includes a network of five crisis care centers, investing in the recruitment and retention of the community behavioral health workforce, and restoring the number of residential treatment beds in the region.
King County residents will vote to increase property taxes to raise an approximate $1.25 billion for mental and behavioral health services, costing the median value homeowner more than $120 a year and would continue through the year 2032.
“I want to hear more because it is clear that our mental health system is almost nonexistent at a time when we are in crisis. The homeless crisis, drug addiction, mental illness, there aren’t enough services to keep up with the desperate level of need,” said Ursula Reutin, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show. “It’s not just the lack of treatment beds. We’ve talked about how we don’t pay people enough to keep them in these extremely challenging jobs. So I understand the need for these crisis centers.
“But why, when we’re already dealing with record inflation, are you asking homeowners, once again, to raise their taxes to pay for this?” Ursula continued. “Why isn’t the county first making sure that its own financial house is in order before asking us to fork over more money?”
This tax proposal would be on the ballot in April of next year. If approved, the measure would increase funding for behavioral health needs by 30% over the levy’s nine-year lifespan, according to King County officials.
“Every day, there’s a new tax. A little tax here, a little tax there. What about this tax? Did you know about this tax? How about this tax? Aren’t we tired of the dink-and-dunk taxes?” asked Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show. “Why do we want to continue to be the state that does not pay income tax? There are a whole lot of billionaires here in the state. There’s a whole lot of big money here in this state. I wonder how much could happen if there was a state income tax.”
During the press conference, Constantine said at least a third of county jail inmates should be in some behavioral health treatment program instead.
“But mental health is something that we cannot see,” Gee said. “If I break my arm, or if you break your leg, you go to the hospital and you get fixed. But we can’t see the mental health situation that we have here. And it’s plaguing us in the worst way. So inaction is not acceptable.”
The proposal would also create apprenticeship programs and install access to higher education, credentialing, training, and equitable wages to support behavioral health workers.
According to county officials, residents wait an average of 44 days for a mental health residential bed.
“I think it is completely legitimate and understanding that we, as taxpayers, want to know what is going on with our money right now,” Ursula said. “And are you being good stewards of our finances? And again, it’s not to say that what they’re outlining here isn’t desperately needed, because I do believe it’s desperately needed.”
King County Council is expected to vote by Feb. 2023 on whether or not to put the proposal on the April 2023 ballot. If the plan passes all the required steps, the tax collection would begin in 2024.
Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.