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Commissioners vote to place mental health question on ballot

The Leavenworth Times - 11/8/2019

Nov. 7--A proposed tax increase to fund mental health services in Leavenworth County will be placed before voters next year.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to have the county clerk draft a question regarding funding for mental health services to appear on ballots for an August primary.

The ballot question was requested by members of the Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force.

Earlier this year, the task force submitted a proposal for addressing mental health issues to the County Commission.

Keith Rickard told commissioners Wednesday that members of the task force had fine tuned their proposal.

Rickard is the executive director of The Guidance Center, a community mental health agency that serves Leavenworth County and two neighboring counties.

He said new cost estimates for the proposal total $1.164 million per year.

The task force's proposal includes recommendations for providing clinician support to schools, increasing compensation for staff at The Guidance Center, providing a mental health case worker to a local homeless shelter and matching an incentive for the state government to invest in a crisis stabilization facility.

Rickard said he believes implementation of the task force's recommendations could save taxpayer money in the long run.

Commissioners did not raise objections to placing the question on a ballot. But much of their discussion Wednesday focused on when the issue would be put before voters.

Members of the task force requested to have a special election in the spring.

Rickard said the United Way of Leavenworth County has agreed to provide funding for a voter education program.

"They see that really as creating an opportunity for people to help themselves," he said.

Commissioner Chad Schimke said he had heard concern from people regarding the expense of having a special election.

County Clerk Janet Klasinski said commissioners had three options. She said commissioners could call for a special election that utilizes mail ballots. Commissioners also had the option of placing the question on ballots for the August primary or next year's general election.

In the case of the August primary, special ballots would have to be prepared for voters who are unaffiliated with a party.

The County Commission will be required to approve a 2021 budget for the county government by late August.

Klasinski said the proposed increased funding for mental health services could be included in the 2021 budget even if the issue is not placed before voters until the August primary.

"It would be a matter of developing two budgets," she said.

One budget would reflect the tax increase that is being proposed. The other would not include the tax increase. The outcome of the election would determine which of the two budgets is adopted.

Klasinski said there is no way the increased funding for mental health services could be included in the 2021 budget if commissioners wait to put the question before voters until next year's general election.

Commissioner Mike Stieben asked Klasinski about the difference in cost of having a special election versus waiting until the August primary.

Klasinski said a 2015 countywide mail ballot election cost about $32,000.

Klasinski estimated the cost of a countywide mail ballot election would be closer $50,000 next year. She said this is because of an increase in postage costs as well as a likely increase in registered voters.

She said there still would be a cost of between $6,000 and $8,000 if commissioners wait until the August primary. She said these expenses would be associated with creating additional ballots and some publication costs.

She said there would be no additional cost for placing the question on the ballot for the November 2020 general election.

Stieben said he would prefer to use $50,000 to help fund The Guidance Center than on postage for a special election.

He said members of the task force may have to work to get voters to turn out for the August primary.

"But I don't think it would be insurmountable," he said.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith said he is concerned about the timing of having a special election in the spring. He said this would be around the same time property owners receive notices regarding reappraisals of their properties, which could impact their property taxes.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson suggested the task force could have a fundraiser to pay for the special election instead of requesting the county to pay for it.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz made a motion to have the county clerk draft the question to be placed on ballots for the August primary.

The motion was approved unanimously.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR


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