King County crisis center measure leads at first vote drop

Voters are deciding whether to raise property taxes to fund walk-in behavioral health centers, residential treatment and higher wages.

a king county election worker's hands, wearing rubber gloves, sorting ballots

Temporary election workers process ballots at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

The Crisis Cares Center Levy ballot measure led by 54.4% to 45.6% after the first ballot count Tuesday night. King County voters are deciding whether to raise property taxes to pay for increased mental health and substance-use disorder treatment options in the region.

If it passes, the levy would pay for the construction of five 24-hour, walk-in behavioral health centers around the county providing on-demand services for people experiencing mental health or substance-use crises. The centers would provide screening and triage; space for people to stay for up to 23 hours of observation; and beds for stays of up to 14 days before discharge or referral to other services.

King County does not currently have walk-in behavioral health facilities, which leads to overreliance on and overcrowding in hospitals and jails, according to the levy’s proponents.

In addition to crisis care center construction and operations, the levy would pay for construction of long-term residential treatment facilities. After decades of budget cuts and downsizing, King County has around 261 residential treatment beds, compared to 548 beds in the early 1990s.

The tax revenue would also help pay for higher wages and apprenticeships and other workforce development efforts for behavioral health workers. Low wages and extremely challenging work has led to high rates of burnout, turnover and vacancies in the mostly nonprofit human-services sector.

Homeowners would pay $0.145 per $1,000 of home value toward the levy. For the median King County homeowner, this is expected to cost $121 per year. The levy is projected to generate $1.25 billion over the nine years it would be collected, ending in 2032.

King County Elections counted 294,714 ballots at the first drop. The next round of results will be available on Wednesday afternoon.

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