Bernalillo commissioners to vote on tax hike

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ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Bernalillo County residents could soon see a tax increase. Proponents say it’s an investment in the community. Now, commissioners are set to take a vote.

It’s a quarter cent tax increase that’s said to bring in between $15 million and $20 million. Commissioners say that money would be set aside to help fund much needed mental health services and programs.

The ordinance states an eighth of the tax would go toward “general operations of the County, including securing revenue bonds.” The other eighth is for “behavioral and mental health needs of the County.”

According to commissioners, the tax would mean three extra cents on a $25 purchase and 12 extra cents on a $100 purchase. They say that money would go toward bridging the gap in mental health resources.

“A majority commission vote in favor of this proposal can bring about a profound shift in the we, the community, manages mental health wellness,” says Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins.

Stebbins is a proponent of the tax. She says the money the taxes bring in will help to address the long-standing, unmet behavioral and mental health needs in our community.

Stebbins says the results of not having those resources available can be tragic. She says half of the inmates at MDC have a diagnosed mental illness or addiction disorders or both. Much of the homeless population, too, suffers from similar conditions, adds Stebbins.

A number of mental health advocates came forward at a press conference to weigh in on the proposed tax. Former APD Sgt. Thomas Grover was one of them. He says in his eight years as a cop, dealing with the mentally ill was an hourly occurrence.

Grover says his choices were limited – take those suffering from mental illness in for an evaluation, take them to MDC or do nothing. He says those options just aren’t effective.

Norma Escalante says she tried to live with mental illness without support but eventually ended up in jail. Now, after getting the help she needed, she’s on her way back to finishing school.

Escalante says as a mother and community member, her mental health impacts more than just her.

“It impacts the family. I am asking the members of the Bernalillo County Commission to invest in solutions so that more families like mine can have access to the resources and healthcare available,” says Escalante.

In last November’s general election, you may remember a ballot question that asked whether you were on board with a tax that would help provide more mental health and addiction treatment services. Stebbins says 69 percent of voters said “yes.”

Yet, even before the election, a behavioral health task force was created to take a look at gaps in mental health resources.

Stebbins says Bernalillo County is already working on a business plan to bring together a network of providers and stakeholders to prioritize needs and allocate money raised from that tax. One possible resource Stebbins mentioned is a crisis response center.

Stebbins says if the commission votes in favor of the tax, funding would become available at the end of this year.

Those opposed to the tax say it could hurt the poor.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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