Editorial: A $161 Million Lesson on Why You Need a Game Plan

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said the Behavioral Health Initiative appears to be working “on a project-by-project basis” rather than holistically.

She is not alone in her concerns. But she is the only current commissioner who was in office when the county imposed an eighth of 1% gross receipts tax in 2015 to “develop a comprehensive, well-networked and accessible continuum of care for children, youth and adults in need of behavioral health services” in partnership with federal, state, and local governments as well as the nonprofit and private sector.

Voters backed the idea in a nonbinding election in 2014, largely in reaction to the fatal police shooting of homeless, schizophrenic camper James Boyd and likely because they believed the county had a plan to make it “complete, well-connected and accessible”. services arrive.

So, for seven long years, consumers paid an extra penny on every $8 purchase (12.5 cents on $100), recognizing an urgent need for better services for people in mental health or addiction crisis. But we are still waiting for the “comprehensive, well-networked and accessible”.

The county’s oldest and most concrete goal was a “crisis triage center” to help those who might otherwise end up in jail or the ER. Seven years and $161 million later, there isn’t one, though groundbreaking is slated for next month and officials say it will open in 2024.

In 2014-2015, the journal’s editorial board worried about taxing on the basis of good intentions instead of a real plan. Now the public deserves accountability for all that tax money.

#1: What did they get for the roughly $80 million that was moved? Proponents point to additional projects and teams, but critics might argue that some of those millions were used to fill existing programs rather than build a crisis center. And while these programs may be effective and worthwhile, among BHI’s disappointments are no meaningful metrics to measure its impact.

No. 2: Even after this year and some major planned spending, finance officials project the county will have $32 million in the bank in addition to the usual reserves, although Bernalillo County’s top executive, Julie Morgas Baca, said $4 million would go to the new medical “sobering center” at the city’s Gateway Center. Why did the county need all that money from cash-strapped taxpayers?

Meanwhile, suicide rates in Bernalillo County are higher than before the tax, and drug overdose deaths have soared. The number of homeless people in Albuquerque — which makes up the vast majority of Bernalillo County — is higher today than it was in 2015, according to official numbers.

And while the tax has been described as a mechanism for working with others to develop a “continuum of care” in the community, the county and its most logical partner – the city of Albuquerque – have only shown ” no effective collaboration at all levels to improve the lives of citizens,” according to a 2021 analysis, the two ordered to identify local needs.

So much for government partnerships.

That could change, albeit $161 million and seven years behind schedule. Morgas Baca says the county is now partnering with the city on several projects, including the walkway, re-engaging community members in its BHI decision-making and developing a plan to better inform the public about available resources. She spun the BHI out of the Department of Behavioral Health Services and merged it with criminal justice reform efforts to create a new office that “represents the county’s non-policing critical response to help reduce crime, reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for those who need it. treatment and support for behavioral health disorders,” according to the county’s website.

OK but how? While that sounds promising, taxpayers deserve more than promises, especially this far. The county needs a detailed, transparent and accountable strategic plan for an easy-to-navigate and accessible system that meets individual needs and advances quality of life. in Bernalillo County. Taxpayers are still paying more than 12.5 cents on every $100 — tens of millions a year — and waiting for data that shows their return on investment.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.

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