The public safety sales tax on the ballot in Benton County next month would put more police officers on the streets and prosecutors in the courtroom.
It also would pay for programs to strengthen families, help young people and better serve the mentally ill, several social service and health care officials said Thursday.
They held a news conference to talk about the prevention and intervention services included in the sales tax package.
The programs are "designed to build a resilient community," said Carol Moser, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance. "(They're) about building a healthier, safer and more productive Benton County in which we can all live and play."
The 0.3 percent sales tax is up for a vote Aug. 5. Ballots are in the mail.
The measure would add three pennies to a $10 purchase in the county, raising an estimated $9.2 million annually for public safety needs.
The money would pay for about 32 police officers and sheriff's deputies throughout the county, plus a seventh Superior Court judge position, two more deputy prosecutors and another assistant city attorney in Kennewick.
About $1.5 million would be dedicated to a mental health court and diversion program and also gang and crime prevention and intervention efforts -- the services discussed Thursday.
Kevin Kennedy, a local mental health advocate and founder of the nonprofit 5150 to Recovery, said Benton County would see reductions in homelessness, incarceration and ER use and improvements in public health and safety through a mental health court.
Similar programs in Yakima, Clark and Spokane counties have led to savings and drops in recidivism, Kennedy said.
Suzi Carpino of F.I.R.M.E. Outreach, a gang outreach program, said that Benton and Franklin counties have more than 1,200 active youth gang members or associates. Prevention and intervention work makes a difference, she said.
"Through the building of trust, rapport and personal relationships with youth and young adults, we can provide them with hope for change," Carpino said.
The sales tax package also would pay for case management services at My Friends Place in Kennewick -- a critical need for youths who show up at the teen shelter and need help getting off the streets, said Karen Kirk-Brockman, executive director of the nonprofit that runs the shelter.
And it would cover the extension of the Nurse-Family Partnership program into Benton County.
The Benton-Franklin Health District already has nurse home visitors in Franklin County, working with low-income first-time mothers.
The program, used in other parts of the state and beyond, leads to drops in infant mortality, child maltreatment, youth crimes and arrests and alcohol, drug and tobacco use in kids, and also results in savings in areas from Medicaid costs to food stamp payments, according to health district information.
Dani Koelzer, a local nurse home visitor, shared a success story.
A client had a history of mental illness and used drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult experiences in her past. She said she stopped using drugs when she learned she was pregnant, but continued having one drink a day.
"I was able to share with her the effects that alcohol can have on an unborn child and she chose to stop," Koelzer said.
The client's daughter was born healthy, and the client sought counseling to better deal with her past. "She's also working very hard to make a safe, secure space for her daughter so she grows up in a nurturing and resilient environment," Koelzer said Thursday.
The public safety sales tax would expire in 10 years. A citizens committee, Citizens for Safe Communities, formed to promote the measure.
The tax proposal has organized opposition in Citizens for Efficient Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement. That group said officials haven't justified the need for a 0.3 percent sales tax and took no formal steps to cut costs or eliminate waste before going to voters.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald