Yakima County mental health tax revenue could boost legal and court services | Local

A large portion of Yakima County’s mental health tax could be spent on legal and court services, according to a recent proposal.

The proposal calls for spending more than $1.8 million on programs in the Department of Corrections and the courts, with an additional $2 million in funding for outside services supporting the courts and law enforcement.

That would amount to nearly $3.9 million — about 70 percent of what the tax is expected to generate annually.

But the proposal is more a measure of programmatic needs within government agencies and is not intended to serve as a priority over projects proposed by nongovernmental organizations, said Yakima County Human Services Director Esther Magasis.

“The intention was not to prioritize law and justice projects over other types of projects,” she said. “(Commissioners) wanted to review internal spending first to get an idea of ​​the county’s funding needs.”

A previous Yakima County Board of Commissioners approved a 0.1 percent sales tax in 2019 in an effort to combat homelessness. Revenue from the tax can be used for projects that provide mental health and substance abuse services.

The tax was adopted by law enforcement, courts, corrections and local service providers. They all agreed the tax would help fund recidivism programs at the county jail, where repeat offenders often had mental health, substance abuse and homelessness issues.

The tax was first assessed in April 2020 and was then expected to generate $3.5 million annually. So far, the tax has generated nearly $13 million and is expected to bring in another $5.6 million in 2023.

Commissioners are now looking to find the best use of the funds.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed costs:

• Yakima County Department of Jails — $111,914 for a medical team to provide detox services at the jail in an effort to reduce emergency room transfers.

• Juvenile Court — $95,428 for a family treatment court that will provide comprehensive services to parents with children facing substance abuse problems.

• Yakima County Circuit Court — $559,633 for a mental health monitoring team that helps offenders follow court-ordered requirements and access treatment services.

• Yakima County Superior Court — $217,701 for a probation officer and police officer assigned to drug court.

• Office of the County Clerk — $155,501 for additional staff to ensure case coverage in juvenile, therapeutic and treatment courts. The office is understaffed.

• Division of Appointed Counsel — $195,610 for a paralegal.

Proposed additional costs include:

• $1,028,866 for seven designated crisis responders who respond to police calls when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis.

• $166,803 for outside services from providers outside of county government in DUI court.

• $821,775 for outside service providers in the Department of Corrections.

At this point, these are only suggestions as commissioners continue to look for the best way to use the funds, Commissioner Amanda McKinney said.

The county uses sequential mapping to assess behavioral health needs in the following systems: criminal justice, homelessness response, and youth care.

“We have the data, which is fantastic,” she said.

Commissioners will now look at possible projects proposed by service providers, who said a lack of affordable housing is among the main concerns.

Funding programs will vary each year and the total amount will be based on the tax generated in the previous year, McKinney said.

“We’re not always going to spend $3 million, $4 million every year,” she said. “So every year it can fluctuate.”

A reserve fund will also be created, she said.

Commissioner Kyle Curtis said the county’s human services department will soon issue a request for information to service providers to identify proposed needed programs to be funded.

Those requests will be considered in April, he said.

“It is important to me that these resources be allocated to programs and services that serve our most vulnerable populations, those that are often overlooked and overlooked,” Curtis said.

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