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In April election, King County voters weigh a property tax hike to fund mental health crisis centers

In front of a blue building with large glass windows, a woman wearing jeans and a backpack inserts her ballot into a drop box with the word "Vote" on the side.
Timothy Aguero Photography
King County Elections
A voter at a King County ballot drop box. Ballots are due April 25 for the April 2023 Special Election.

King County voters will choose in a special election on April 25 whether to impose a property tax to fund mental health treatment.

Proponents say it would build five centers around the county that would act as emergency rooms for mental help and recovery treatment, build back supportive housing that’s disappeared, and increase pay so providers can hang onto staff.

Estimates say the levy would cost an owner of a $700,000 dollar home around $120 next year. It would raise over a billion dollars in nine years.

Michelle McDaniel is CEO of Crisis Connections, which answers the 9-8-8 mental health hotline in King County. McDaniel said right now if someone is in crisis and needs mobile mental health professionals to come visit their home, her staff seeing wait times of two days.

"If I had broken my arm and I'm in terrible pain and someone said, 'yes, we can have somebody come to your home,' and they said, 'it'll take two days to get there,' what would I do? I could walk into an urgent care center in my community and be able to have that addressed. We don't have the equivalent of that for behavioral health crises."

Crisis Connections is one of the oldest crisis lines in the country, founded in 1964. McDaniel said their call volume spiked in the pandemic, and is still 25- 40% higher than at this point in 2020. But over the last three decades, places to send people have dried up because of underfunding.

"There had been a time where [it was] more common that somebody would be contacting crisis connection services because they're struggling with anxiety," McDaniel said. "Now, it's struggling with anxiety and isolation and substance use. It's dealing with depression, and also 'I'm concerned that I'm going to be evicted because I can't pay my rent.'"

Crisis Connections also answers the Washington Recovery helpline and 2-1-1 for housing, food and financial help.

In addition to Crisis Connections, supporters of the measure include King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, who all proposed it. Seattle rapper Macklemore also voiced his support. There's not an organized campaign against the measure, but it's opposed by Fremont Dock Company president Suzie Burke and anti-tax activist Tim Eyman.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.