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Issue 9: Hamilton County taxpayers will decide whether to pay more for mental health

Scott Wartman, Cincinnati Enquirer - Published October 12, 2022

In the past 15 years, the property tax for the mental health levy hasn't increased but the demand for mental health services has, counselors, patients and mental health professionals all agree.

This November, Hamilton County voters will be asked whether they are willing to pay more on their property taxes for mental health services.

Issue 9, if approved by voters, would raise the mental health property tax rate 32% and would be the first increase since 2007.

Here's what you need to know about Issue 9.

How much are you being asked to pay?

The current mental health levy costs $40.93 per $100,000 of home value. The increase would raise the cost by $13.30 per $100,000 of value.

What does the mental health levy pay for?

The $36.5 million generated from the tax goes to the Hamilton County Mental Health and Recovery

Services Board. The board then doles out the money among 25 agencies that provide a variety of mental health services. These can include mental health crisis hotlines, psychiatric help for low-income people, housing for people dealing with mental health issues, counselors that help people going through the mental health court and mental health outreach to the homeless among many, many more types of services.

Who gets the most money from the levy?

The Talbert House, a mental health and addiction treatment facility, received the largest share in 2022 with $7.6 million.

The next largest share went to Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services and its staff of 700, including psychiatrists, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, counselors, care managers and employment specialists. The organization got $6 million from the levy in 2022.

What will the increase pay for?

The increase, if approved, would generate an additional $9 million a year for the levy. It will pay for $2 million more annually in crisis response services and $2 million more in housing for the mentally ill.

For many agencies that get levy money, it won't mean additional services. The increase will keep the mental health agencies from having to make any cuts, officials said. The agencies get reimbursed for care provided that Medicaid and other sources don't cover. Each agency has a budgeted limit for money they get from the levy, the limit determined by the mental health board.

What happens if the levy increase doesn't pass?

If the levy fails, the entire mental health levy would be eliminated. Not only would the 25 agencies not get the additional $9 million in money from the levy, but they also wouldn't get the current $36 million from the levy. It would take at least another year for Hamilton County to attempt to put another mental health levy on the ballot.

So why go for this increase?

Without the 32% increase, mental health services would need to be cut, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board president Patrick Tribbe and other mental health services CEOs have said. They wouldn't say exactly what would be cut. That remains to be determined.

But budget projections show the levy would have run out of money by 2024 and would run a $37 million deficit over the next five years, according to a consultant's report presented to the Hamilton County Tax Levy Review Committee.

"Because we haven't had an increase in the levy in a number of years, the additional money that we're asking for is really to get us somewhat back on par with the current demand," said Jeff O'Neil, president of Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services, when asked why the increase is needed. "We're not looking to add a lot of new things. It's really to sustain where we're already at."

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