Are Sarasota Co. residents willing to pay higher taxes for mental health services?

Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The numbers are bleak.

Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states in the funding of mental health services, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.

Health officials in Sarasota County are asking residents to fill out a survey to gauge if they would support paying more in taxes, to better fund mental health programs and help people who are struggling.

The seven-question survey includes how much a resident would be willing to pay a year, and what services they support.

“There aren’t enough services for all of the need, which I think is what brought the commission to this discussion, should we have a dedicated reoccurring funding stream,” Senior Manager of Human Services, Wayne Applebee said.

Applebee said commissioners are looking into whether there is enough support to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot as a referendum.

Chris Johnson, CEO of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness said a significant number of the homeless population suffer from some sort of mental health issues, and would greatly benefit from increased funding.

“It makes it difficult because there are interventions out there and organizations that do this work, but their funding is limited, their staff is limited. If we had that funding, and we had that staffing that was available to actually go out and do the outreach, to connect consistently, we would find a lot of those individuals would move into services and move out of homelessness,” Johnson said.

Instead, Johnson said the homeless population ends up in a bad cycle.

“If you look at the number of EMS calls for individuals who have mental health illnesses on the street, if you look at the emergency services, the hospital usage, those dollars are being spent already, they’re just being spent repetitively. Without moving somebody from where they are they end up back in crisis,” Johnson said.

The deadline to fill out the survey is the end of the month, to do so you can click here.

Once the results are analyzed, a report will be compiled and given to county commissioners, as well as posted online.

If they see support, commissioners would need to hold a public meeting sometime in April in order for the issue to be added to the November ballot, according to Applebee.

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