Friday, February 08, 2002

Mental-health tax hike could be 18%

Hearings start today on new levy

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County taxpayers could be asked as soon as May to vote on a proposed 18 percent increase for Hamilton County mental health services.

        The first of three public hearings to discuss the proposed increase begins today before the Hamilton County Tax Levy Review Committee.

        If approved, the budget for serving about 23,000 mentally ill children and adults in Hamilton County would grow from $27.6 million a year to $32.7 million a year.

        The increase is needed for three reasons, said Patrick Tribbe, president and chief executive of the Hamilton County Community Mental Health Board:

        • Covering about $2.4 million in services that have been shifted to the mental health board from other county agencies, including a larger share of the costs of mental health evaluations in juvenile court.

        • Launching a county mental health court, which could cost $1.25 million a year, and expanding services for mentally ill youth.

        • Covering inflation, estimated at about 3.1 percent a year.

        The county mental health board distributes money to 49 agencies that serve the mentally ill. Those agencies provide everything from long-term residential services to outpatient counseling to medications for the needy. About 18,000 of its clients are adults and 5,000 are children.

        The mental health board places high priority on creating a mental health court, which could be launched this year.

        Such a court would allow more people who commit nonviolent crimes as a result of their mental illness to be sent into court-ordered treatment instead of jail. A similar court was launched earlier this year in Butler County's Fairfield Municipal Court.

        “This would be a real attempt to focus care on those people who cycle through the justice system but really don't need to be in jail,” Mr. Tribbe said.

        The current four-year mental health levy — at 2.47 mills — expires at the end of 2002. The exact millage of the proposed new levy — and thus the potential impact on a homeowner — has not yet been calculated.

        Getting the proposed increase on the ballot requires a review by the tax levy review committee and approval from the county commission. Either could change the amount or timing of the levy request.

        The first public hearing begins at 4 p.m. today at the Hamilton County Commissioners' hearing room, Room 603, 138 E. Court St., downtown.

        Further hearings are scheduled for Feb. 14 and 19 at the same time and place.


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