Sep 27, 2022 - Politics

King County officials float $1.25B behavioral health ballot measure

Illustration of a piggy bank-like brain with a dollar going inside

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

King County officials want to build five new walk-in centers where people experiencing mental health crises could get immediate help — a service that is unavailable locally right now.

Driving the news: The walk-in crisis centers are part of a proposed $1.25 billion ballot measure announced Monday by King County Executive Dow Constantine and other local leaders.

  • The nine-year levy, which could go to voters next April, would expand residential treatment beds, provide higher pay for behavioral health workers and invest in mobile crisis response teams.

Why it matters: People with mental health or substance use disorders often languish in jail or emergency rooms waiting for treatment — or end up on the street, becoming part of Seattle's visibly suffering homeless population.

By the numbers: The money would come from an increase in property taxes, which county officials estimate would cost the owner of a median-value home $121 in 2024.

  • If approved, the measure would increase behavioral health funding in King County by 30% or more over the nine-year life of the levy, county officials said.

What they're saying: "If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care," King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said at a press conference Monday.

  • By contrast, "if you're going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options for a population of 2.3 million people," Zahilay said.

Between the lines: At Monday's press conference, Constantine said a third or more of people in the county jail probably should be in behavioral health treatment instead.

  • That includes about 70 people who are supposed to move to state care at Western State Hospital, but can't because the state facility is at capacity.

What's next: The King County Council must decide to put the proposed property tax levy on the ballot before the plan can go to voters next April.

  • The council is expected to make a decision by February.
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