This week, Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote to determine whether three tax renewals will appear on the November ballot.
One of those taxes, a measure to fund mental health services, includes an increase — potentially generating almost $45 million a year, compared to $36.5 million in the current cleanup rate.
We encourage the three-person committee – Denise Driehaus, Stephanie Summerow Dumas and Alicia Reece – to shine a light on the tax so it can go before the voters.
That is why:
The need for mental health services is great
Put bluntly, we are facing a mental health crisis, one that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As reported by Terry DeMio of The Enquirer, a late 2021 survey of 26,260 seventh through 12th grade students in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties showed that more than half (53.3%) reported high levels of stress. One in 10 said they had suicidal thoughts. And 60% struggle to pull themselves out of a bad mood.
Overdose deaths among teens and young adults escalated in 2020 and 2021. Southwest Ohio saw a 37% increase from 2019 to 2020 in deaths of those 15 to 24 years old, Ohio Department of Health data show..
Hamilton County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services does not provide direct care; rather, it provides funding and coordinates services from partner mental health providers for adults and children who are mentally disabled and/or addicted to alcohol and drugs.
An independent analysis by the agency determined that the number of residents needing mental health care will continue to rise, while the number of caregivers is expected to decline due to low compensation and burnout.
Financing has not kept pace with inflation
The current rate of 2.99 mills (which costs a property owner $40.93 per year per $100,000 in home value) has been in effect since 2008. Based on the Consumer Price Index, the value of a dollar of 2008 is expected to be 57 cents in 2027. Without the tax increase, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board warned that it will not be able to maintain the current level of service, let alone meet the projected increase in the number of people seeking help.
In addition to approval by the citizens led Tax Review Commissionthe renewal and tax increase surprisingly has the support of the community. At the July 28 district commission meeting, more than 40 people spoke in favor of the tax, many of whom shared personal stories of how they or family members benefited from services received through the county. It is not insignificant that there is no organized opposition to the tax.
The agency has a good track record
The Tax Review Committee hired a consultant, Health Management Associates, to do this an in-depth analysis of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. He found that the agency operates efficiently and has built solid relationships with providers. Overall, customers who were surveyed reported being satisfied with the services they received.
Last month, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now Suicide and Crisis Line 988) went from a 10-digit phone number to a three-digit phone line with text messages. Individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts or dealing with mental health issues can now call or text 988 — a number intended to be as widely known as 911, the number used to get emergency police or medical help. While it’s not clear what the local impact will be, proponents of the tax say it will help the county prepare for an expected increase in the number of people seeking help through the hotline.
Also of concern: Individuals who sought help for hardships caused by the pandemic may no longer be eligible for services under Medicaid after a federal COVID-19 assistance program expires in September. Tax advocates say local governments must prepare to fill the expected gap.
Raising taxes is never popular. But it’s a moral imperative that we prioritize funding for mental health, even if it means county leaders have to find other cuts to reduce the burden on property owners.
The proposed tax levy is far from worthless; in fact, when factoring in inflation, it still falls short of what the tax funded when it was approved by voters in 2007.
We can also confidently say that Hamilton County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services it is nothing but a bloated bureaucracy. With roughly 24 full-time employees, it pales in comparison to mental health boards in Cuyahoga County (53) and Franklin County (55).
And finally, we must recognize that for too long we have allowed law enforcement agencies and the court system to fill the gaps when mental health services are underfunded and overburdened. The safety net provided by the Mental Health Recovery Services Board is a more cost-effective and humane way to treat those in need than relying on the criminal justice system.
We call on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to send a clear message of its priorities with a unanimous vote to place the mental health services levy on the November ballot.
Enquirer Executive Editor Beryl Love wrote this editorial on behalf of The Enquirer’s editorial board, which includes Opinion and Engagement Editor Kevin Aldridge, Senior News Content Director Jackie Borchardt and community board members Jackie Congedo, Mack Mariani and Rachel Citak.