Members of a local mental health task force are making plans to launch a campaign in support of a proposed countywide tax increase to support mental health programs.

Members of a local mental health task force are making plans to launch a campaign in support of a proposed countywide tax increase to support mental health programs.

Leavenworth County commissioners voted last month to put the proposed tax increase before voters next year.

The $1.164 million per year tax increase was proposed by members of the Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force.

The group has proposed the tax increase to fund a proposal that includes recommendations for providing clinician support to schools, providing a mental health caseworker to a local homeless shelter, matching an incentive for the state government to invest in a crisis stabilization facility and increasing compensation for staff at The Guidance Center.

The Guidance Center is a community mental health agency that serves Leavenworth County and two neighboring counties.

"We know we have a big test ahead of us," Keith Rickard, executive director of The Guidance Center, said Thursday.

He spoke during a meeting of the Mental Health Task Force.

Rickard, who serves on the task force, said the group will have to educate members of the public about the need for enhanced mental health services and perhaps the cost-benefit of implementing the group's proposal.

"This is a very real crisis in our community," Vicky Kaaz said.

Kaaz serves as the chairwoman of the Mental Health Task Force. She also is a member of the Leavenworth County Commission.

The proposed tax increase will appear on ballots in the August 2020 primary election.

Even though it will be a primary, Kaaz said unaffiliated voters can still vote on the tax question.

State Rep. Jeff Pittman, who attended Thursday's meeting of the task force, suggested it will be difficult to get unaffiliated voters to turn out during the primary election.

"I know it's not easy," Kaaz said.

Members of the task force had requested that county commissioners call for a special election in the spring. But commissioners decided to place the tax question on ballots for the August primary.

"I think we can maintain the momentum," Mike Griswold said.

Griswold serves as the vice-chairman of the Mental Health Task Force. He also is the mayor pro-tem of the city of Leavenworth.

After the holidays, Griswold said, the task force will come up with a timeline for a strategic communications plan.

Rickard said the United Way of Leavenworth County will help with costs associated with the strategic communications plan.

Members of the task force met Thursday with Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas.

Kessler said funding for mental health services in Leavenworth County is extraordinarily low compared to what the needs are.

Kessler said he believes the proposal by the task force has the potential to become a model for other counties around the state.

"It's an idea that Kansans take care of their own," he said.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR