Sales tax proposal for Mendocino County psychiatric care facility qualifies for ballot

A sales tax proposal that would raise an estimated $23 million to $30 million over five years to provide new mental health facilities in Mendocino County has received enough qualified signatures to go on the November ballot.

The half-cent sales tax proposal now heads to the Board of Supervisors, which will decide whether to place it on an upcoming ballot or ask for further studies on the impacts of the measure.

If approved by a two-thirds majority, the five-year measure, launched in part by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, would construct facilities, including an acute psychiatric treatment center, a crisis residential unit and a drop-in clinic. The proponents have not released any estimate of capital costs and the sales tax would not pay for staffing or other operational expenses. The county would be expected to cover those costs.

The county already has requested a fiscal analysis, which is expected to be presented to the board next week.

If approved, it would boost sales tax in the unincorporated county to 8.125 percent; the city of Ukiah to 8.625 percent and the city of Fort Bragg to 9.125 percent. The city of Ukiah also is contemplating a sales tax proposal for road repairs.

The measure, also spearheaded by a group that includes physicians and mental health advocates, is aimed at reestablishing a local psychiatric facility where people in crisis can be held involuntarily for 72 hours, then receive up to 30 days of voluntary inpatient care.

The county closed its psychiatric health facility in 1999. Patients suffering a crisis now are shipped to out-of-county psychiatric facilities, including sites in Yuba, Solano and Sonoma counties. But first they wait, often under watch by sheriff’s deputies for hours on end at emergency rooms or in the jail, where suicidal patients are stripped naked and left in cells without beds.

“Right now you have the street, the ER or the jail. Those are the three treatments if you have mental health problems,” said Dr. Marvin Trotter, an emergency room physician and former public health officer. “It’s a little crazy and barbaric.”

It would be more humane and efficient to keep patients locally, Allman and Trotter said. They also would like to see improved services, including better preventative care for mental health patients.

Proponents say they think money for staffing and operations costs can be found largely within the existing county budget for mental health. The county already is spending $6 million annually to send patients to mental health facilities outside of the county, Trotter said.

Allman said the current system turns jails into psychiatric facilities and deputies into first responders for mental health crises, situations he said should be handled by medical professionals unless there’s a threat of violence.

“If your house is on fire, you don’t call a plumber,” he said

Allman said he decided to pursue the sales tax measure late last year, after calls for deputies to respond to mental health incidents spiked. Deputies often were staying for more than eight hours at a time with patients who were being held in emergency rooms until they could be transported to psychiatric facilities elsewhere, he said.

Allman, who lost a brother to suicide, also is concerned about the effects on patients and their families when they’re shipped long distances, far from the support of family and friends.

County Executive Officer Carmel Angelo was in a board meeting and not available Tuesday to discuss at length the proposed sales tax and its potential impacts. A report will be presented to the board on Tuesday, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or Twitter @MendoReporter

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