BFT, county officials discussing potential tax revenue cuts to support mental health

Commissioners are requesting voters stop paying 0.1% in sales taxes and instead pay 0.1% in taxes to help run the health facility

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — County commissioners, the Benton Franklin Transit Board, and members of the public met Thursday night to discuss putting a tax revenue cut on the November ballot in exchange for supporting a potential new behavioral and mental health facility.

If the transit service agrees to the Benton and Franklin County commissioners’ request, they would be facing nearly $7 million dollars in tax revenue cuts which are about 15% of the BFT‘s budget.

Both counties sent letters to the BFT board requesting that transit district voters stop paying 0.1% in sales taxes or one cent per $10 dollars.

Instead, the commissioners are suggesting a 0.1% tax to help run the mental health facility once it’s built, estimating nearly $9 million dollars in revenue as the new tax would include all residents in both counties.

BFT Board Chair Richard Bloom said while he’s not “opposed” to the idea, he didn’t think it was “the responsible way of approaching a necessary function for the Tri-Cities.”

“To say, ‘Well, let’s just cut the budget by 15% and see what happens? These are the things that need to be discussed,” Bloom said. “What it comes down to is it isn’t necessary to reduce transit funding for the county commissioners to approve an increased sales tax.”

Bloom said another issue is there hasn’t been clarity in “what the actual funding need is to operate the facility.”

“Nobody has discussed how much it’ll cost,” Bloom said. “That’s the key.”

Bloom added that there isn’t a question that the BFT board could cut back but it’s part of their responsibility to “be responsible with the funds.”

“The plan we have matches the growth of the Tri-Cities. If we don’t want to grow with the Tri-Cities, the transit board can make that decision,” Bloom said.

Gloria Boyce, the general manager for the BFT, said she has “every confidence that the BFT Board of Directors will make a good decision.”

“I am certain they will take into consideration all the information that is available to them and move forward with a plan that is in the best interest of our riders,” Boyce said.

Officials said that they have all of the funding to build the facility but not to continue running it. That’s where the mental health tax would come in, to pay for services not covered by the health insurance revenue.

Bloom added that it’s not a matter of debate as to what’s more important between building a mental health facility and the transit service but rather how the funding will be allocated.

Ultimately, it’s up to the board to decide to put the request for voters to cut their taxes on the November ballot.

For the BFT’s financial information, click here.

To view the BFT’s board packets and agendas, click here.

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