This November Sonoma County voters will be asked to approve Measure O, an initiative that would increase the sales tax by 1/4 of one cent per dollar (0.25%) on all taxable sales in the county for 10 years in order to fund mental health and addiction services and facilities for children, adults, seniors, veterans and for those experiencing homelessness.
According to the Sonoma County Auditor’s Fiscal Impact Statement, the passage of the tax would yield approximately $25 million each year for mental health and homeless services and facilities.
A “No” vote on the tax measure would prohibit the county from imposing the sales tax.
If approved by voters this Nov. 3, the net proceeds would be allocated to five program categories:
● 22% ($500,000) for behavioral health facilities, including: Residential care facilities, transitional housing for individuals, discharging from crisis services, psychiatric health facility and operations.
● 44% ($11,000,000) for emergency psychiatric/crisis services, including: Expansion of the Mobile Support Team / crisis assessment, prevention and education, crisis stabilization unit, residential crisis services, adult inpatient hospital services.
● 18% ($4,500,000) for mental health and substance use disorder outpatient services, including: Mental health services and children’s shelters, mental health services for children and youth, services to support residential care facilities, permanent supportive housing and other housing, substance use disorder services expansion.
● 14% ($3,500,000) for homeless behavioral health/care coordination, including: Behavioral health services for individuals who are homeless, care coordination for high needs homeless.
● 2% ($500,000) for transitional and supportive housing, including the supportive housing pool.
Proponents of the ballot measure say it will provide Sonoma County residents with key essential services during a critical time, a period where more and more individuals are dealing with homelessness, mental health concerns and impacts from COVID-19.
“It is the mental health services I might add that are probably the most essential to the county because the county is a mandated mental health service provider through the state … The money that it goes toward include things like crisis services, suicide prevention, mobile support team, lots and lots of different programs, peer counseling, case assessment, etc. It really does make our community healthier and as somebody who survived the suicide of my husband who didn’t get the care he needed from Kaiser, I can tell you that there is a tremendous amount of suffering in our county because we don’t provide enough in terms of mental health services,” said Sonoma County Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who is also an advocate for Measure O.
Other official supporters listed on the ballot measure packet include Congressman Mike Thompson, Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steven Herrington and Windsor Town Councilmember Esther Lemus.
Those against the tax argue that now is not the time for the addition of higher taxes in an era of “uncertainty and chaos.”
“This is the seventh sales tax that the board of supervisors has put before voters in the last five years. They had one for transportation, they’ve had two for parks, they’ve had two for libraries, they had one for fire services last year and now this one for mental health, and that doesn’t include the one that SMART had last time,” said Daniel Drummond, the executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association.
Drummond is listed formally as “against” the measure in the county ballot information.
While some argue that now is a bad time for a funding measure, Zane said she believes funding for mental health and homeless services is needed now more than ever.
“This isn’t going to be hurting families, it’s going to be helping families. Mental health services will create a healthier community for all of us,” Zane said. “I think they were very over simplistic by saying ‘No’ on all taxes, and if we look at history such as this last recession we went through, there was a stimulus package that started all new kinds of programs under that… The time (for this measure) is perfect. We’ve had a crisis with mental health for years and it has gotten worse. Our streets are filled with the homeless, our jails are filled with people who are sick, families suffer — now is the time.”
Drummond argues that the measure is not about homelessness or mental health, but that it’s about county financial mismanagement. He also opined that supervisors and their colleagues in Sacramento rely on “public employee union contributions and endorsements to secure their re-elections.”
“They are cherry picking these high-profile community services — roads, fire, mental health — while they are funding pet peeve type projects, projects that don’t benefit the community, but projects that benefit their electoral supporters,” Drummond said. “The supervisors are highly reliant on the labor unions for support for their campaigns… and so they go ahead and approve these project labor agreements, which drive up the cost of public works projects and that doesn’t benefit the voters, it doesn’t benefit the taxpayers.”
In rebuttal against Drummonds arguments, Measure O supporters wrote in the official ballot packet for the measure, “Opponents of Measure O are using pensions and Sacramento politics to confuse voters and shift the focus away from those whose lives depend on Measure O.”
To view information about the measure and all of the submitted arguments for and against it, visit: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/CRA/Registrar-of-Voters/Elections/11-03-2020/Measures/.
There you can find information about all of the county and municipal measures.