• Arne Mortensen

The Cowlitz County Mental Health Sales Tax - a preliminary view

A .1% sales tax collected on all taxable transactions in Cowlitz County was made into law by the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) in 2013. Fortunately, that tax was created with a five-year lifetime, which ends on 31 March 2018. If the BoCC takes no action, that tax goes away, and this is an area of concern, as explained below.

Why was the tax “necessary”? See this TDN article. The county code for this sales tax can be found here.

How was the money used? The most recent summary information can be seen in this PDF spreadsheet.

  • Note that there is unspent money. There were demands to spend all the money for many new programs, but the current BoCC decided it was wiser to save money to cover future support for known good programs, such as the therapeutic courts, rather than start new programs and come back to the public for more money.

  • This BoCC has approved spending for CORE Health, CHOB, NAMI, and Cowlitz Community Network. These are a clear fit to the purpose of the tax.

  • The money for administrative costs is bothersome. Other entries seem to be an odd fit for this tax.

  • In sum, can results be seen from the spending of the money? You tell me. I think the courts do a good useful job. What about the other stuff?

The question is should the BoCC renew this tax? If so, in what manner?

Note: If the tax lapses, then if it is reinstated, the new tax money cannot go to support those programs that were previously supported by this tax.

  • The BoCC can extend the duration of the tax or let it lapse. To prevent lapse, the tax must be extended 45 days before expiration.

  • Citizens can be presented with an advisory vote on whether they want the tax. This has requirements to be in process soon (I can’t remember specifically when) to get on the November Ballot. It also has several 10s of thousands dollars in associated cost.

  • This sales tax cannot be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people because the governing legislation does not permit it.

What is my position … now (may change with new information and citizen feedback)? A night hearing may be advisable for this issue.

  • I don’t support a ballot measure.

  • The topic is difficult to understand even when I have the data in hand at my desk, so I don’t think the issue can be put into a voters’ pamphlet with any expectation of completeness or correctness.

  • It can be an advisory vote only, so why the expense if it must be a BoCC decision anyway?

  • I encourage the public to contact the BoCC to give thoughtful feedback on this (and any) issue.

  • I do not support the tax.

  • We should be more prudent about how we spend the tax money we have collected so far.

  • We can figure out a better way to handle some of these issues. For example, AA and NA are nearly cost free and effective organizations, so why are we so expensive.

  • What do we have to show for having collected this tax for four years? I don’t have any useful and direct answers to that question.

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