Leavenworth County commissioners were briefed Wednesday on recommendations of a task force for addressing issues related to mental health.

Leavenworth County commissioners were briefed Wednesday on recommendations of a task force for addressing issues related to mental health.

“It’s a public health issue,” said County Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, who also serves on the Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force.

No action was taken Wednesday by commissioners. But members of the Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force are recommending that commissioners place a proposed tax increase before voters. If approved, the additional tax money would be used to pay for mental health programs.

Commissioners were presented with estimates indicating implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations initially could cost $1.4 million per year and eventually increase to $1.8 million per year.

However, Keith Rickard, who reviewed the recommendations with commissioners, said members of the Task Force will fine tune the estimated cost of their recommendations.

Rickard is the executive director of The Guidance Center, a community mental health agency that serves Leavenworth County and two neighboring counties.

Rickard said Leavenworth County is seeing the same trends in terms of mental health issues that are occurring at a national level.

He said the opioid and meth crisis in the country is affecting the local community. He also said the suicide rate in Leavenworth County is as high or greater than in other areas of the state and elsewhere in the country.

Rickard said people from all walks of life suffer from mental health problems. But he said people in poverty may have a tougher time accessing care.

Kaaz said people need to stop differentiating between mental health and physical health. She said there is no difference between a sick brain and a sick heart.

Recommendations from the Task Force include the implementation of a program for mental health services in schools in the county.

Rickard noted that the state recently awarded a grant to the Leavenworth public school system for mental health services.

Task Force recommendations also include an enhancement of services at The Guidance Center and continued funding for the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office for mental health services at the county jail.

The Task Force also is recommending the establishment of a residential crisis facility in the county to treat people who experience mental health crises.

Task Force members are suggesting that a feasibility study first be completed to determine the financial viability of this type of facility.

The Task Force also is recommending that county commissioners publicly support an expansion of the number of state mental health hospital beds.

The Task Force also is asking commissioners to consider supporting an expansion of Medicaid in Kansas as well as an increase to the reimbursement rate.

Rickard said he knows that Medicaid expansion is potentially a political issue.

“But I’m not sure what options we have,” he said.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said raising county property taxes to provide additional funding for mental health care would require a vote by the public. That is because the county is subject to a state tax lid law. The law places restrictions on the collection of increased property tax revenue that exceeds the rate of inflation.

The county government’s budget for 2020 already has been completed.

In order to include a tax increase for mental health programs in the 2021 budget, commissioners would need to have an election in the spring, County Clerk Janet Klasinski said.

Rickard said the Task Force will fine tune figures for cost estimates of the recommendations. He said they also will collect data regarding costs that may result from a lack of mental health services.

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