The Richland City Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 9 to decide whether to support a proposal from the Benton County and Franklin County Commissions to fund new mental health services by reducing funding for Ben Franklin Transit.
Councilmember Phil Lemley represents the city on the Ben Franklin Transit Board. At the Aug. 2 council meeting Lemley asked the council to decide how they want him to vote on the issue when it comes before the board.
The agenda for the special meeting includes Ben Franklin’s 2022 budget and tax revenue projections.
The county commissions propose reducing the .6% in sales tax that the agency currently receives to .5%. The reduction would require a referendum on the November 2, 2021 ballot.
Under state law, the commissions could raise the sales tax .1% or about a penny on $10.00 without a referendum.
Opponents of the change argue that while a .1% reduction doesn’t sound like much, it represents about $7 million or approximately 17% of the $44 million budget based on 2021 figures. About $35 million of that came from the transit tax.
Opponents also argue that cutting funding for public transit hurts many of the people that the community seeks to help with improved mental health services.
The resolution on the Ben Franklin agenda for Aug. 12 is to DECLINE placing the matter on the Nov. 2 ballot.
This spring Benton County received $2.7 million from the state to study building a mental health facility on 4 acres the county already owns.
The plan to rehab the old Kennewick General Hospital for the facility collapsed when the current owner of the building, LifePoint Health, wanted non-compete restrictions on the sale. LifePoint, a for-profit corporation, owns both Trios Hospital in Kennewick and Lourdes Hospital in Pasco. Lourdes provides some mental health services. LifePoint is owned by Apollo Global Management which currently sells on the New York Stock Exchange for $61.40 a share.
The council will meet at 6:00 p.m. for the special meeting that can be viewed in person at city hall, by ZOOM, or by watching City View Channel 192.