Chemical Dependency & Mental Health Sales Tax

Omnibus Mental Health & Substance Abuse Act
Washington State’s Legislature passed the Omnibus Mental Health and Substance Abuse Act (E2SSB 5763) in 2005. In addition to promoting a series of strategies to enhance the state’s chemical dependency and mental health treatment services, the law authorized counties to levy a one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax to fund new mental health, chemical dependency, or therapeutic court services.

Blue Ribbon Commission
In February, 2007, the Snohomish County Council established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Issues to “advise the County Council on public safety initiatives and programs”, and to “make recommendations on funding options for new or enhanced programs” (Council Motion Number 07-081).

The Blue Ribbon Commission conducted a six-month process of study during the latter half of 2007. The commission received six proposals via formal presentations, as well as input from citizens and organizations, and five public meetings were held, one in each of the County Council Districts, in order to receive input on the range of proposals under review.

Conclusions & Recommendations
In a final report containing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s conclusions and
recommendations delivered to the Snohomish County Council in January of 2008, the commission “uniformly and strongly recommends the county adopt an overarching focus on crime prevention, shifting the existing emphasis from response to prevention and treatment”. The commission also “strongly supports the 1/10th of 1% sales tax initiative as a means to fund critical mental health and chemical dependency needs in the county”.

In June of 2008, the Snohomish County Council hired a consultant to be a temporary County Council employee to assist the council in planning for the 1/10th of 1% sales tax initiative. The consultant conducted an information gathering and interviewing process that culminated in the presentation of an initial plan of action with recommendations titled “Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Taxing Option” to the council on August 25, 2008.

Goals to Be Achieved
On December 3, 2008, the Snohomish County Council passed Ordinance 08-154 “Authorizing a Sales And Use Tax To Provide For Operation or Delivery of Chemical Dependency or Mental Health Treatment And Therapeutic Court Programs And Services”. The council provided explicit policy goals to be achieved using the funds generated by this tax. Those goals are to:
  • Reduce the incidence and severity of chemical dependency and/or mental health disorders in adults and youth
  • Reduce the number of individuals with chemical dependency and/or mental health disorders using costly interventions such as hospitals, emergency rooms, or jails
  • Diverge adults and youth with chemical dependency and/or mental health disorders from initial or further involvement with the criminal justice system
  • Support linkages with other county efforts
  • Provide outreach to underserved populations
  • Provide culturally appropriate service delivery