Some two hours of people representing nonprofit organizations, school districts, medical facilities, police departments and average citizens speaking on the need for behavioral health funding was not enough to persuade the Pierce County Council at its March 10 meeting to approve implementing a tax to raise said money.

The 4 to 3 decision on Proposal No. 2020-24s saw Chair Doug Richardson, Jim McCune, Pam Roach and Dave Morell vote to indefinitely postpone voting on the tax proposal.  Connie Ladenburg, Derek Young and Marty Campbell voted in favor of the tax proposal, which would have increased the county sales tax by one-tenth of one percent – essentially a penny on every $10 purchase – raising an estimated $13.1 million in 2020 to address gaps in mental health and substance abuse care.

The issue drew more than 100 people to address and/or watch the county council vote on the behavioral health tax. All but one speaker was in favor of the tax due to a severe lack of funding to help cover costs of mental health and substance abuse treatment centers and facilities.

“First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for your comments today, even if you didn’t speak, for your attendance,” Ladenburg said prior to the vote. “It means, I think, a lot for all of us to hear the voice of the people we all represent.”

While sympathetic to the goals of the tax proposal, Morell indicated he was uncomfortable with the fact there was no plan in place beyond merely passing said tax.

“This ordinance, as far as I am concerned, is the cart before the horse, and I can’t buy that,” Morell said. “For me, it’s more important to get this right now than to pass a tax now.”

Following the vote, Morell introduced a resolution to have a strategic plan in place before holding a vote for the tax, warning a vote against his resolution could possibly mean having to wait another two years to address the issue.

According to the county charter, such a tax increase requires a supermajority – that is, five out of seven votes on the council.

Young, a sponsor of the behavioral health tax, said he did not agree with the delay, but that voting against it would result in another two years of getting a new council updated on the issue before the council would get a chance to vote on it again.

The Morell-introduced resolution passed, with McCune, Morell, Richardson and Young casting yes votes, while Ladenburg, Roach and Campbell voted no.

The failure of the behavioral health tax impacted a related resolution in the form of Proposal No. R2020-13, which would create the Office of Behavioral Health Oversight within the office of the Pierce County Council. The council also voted to indefinitely postpone creating said office by a vote of 4 to 3. Roach, McCune, Morell and Richardson voted to indefinitely postpone voting on the creation of said office, while Young, Campbell and Ladenburg voted in favor of the proposal.

A resolution to request a count subcommittee to deliver a strategic framework before Oct. 1 of how the $13.1 million would be spent passed by a vote of 4 to 3. McCune, Morell, Young and Richardson voted yes, with Ladenburg, Roach and Campbell voting no.

In other business, the council was presented with information on the Puget Sound Regional Competition, resulting in a $400,000 Federal Surface Transportation Program Grant for work on Canyon Road East.

The council passed four proposals regarding franchises for water lines, including Fruitland Mutual Water Company, Ashford Water District, Spanaway Water Company and the Valley Water District.

Two collective bargaining agreements with the following were ratified: Professional and Technical Employees, Local No. 17, Engineering Supervisors and Professional and Technical Employees, Local No. 17, Engineering Unit.