LAFAYETTE, Colo. — Voters in Lafayette will have to decide this fall whether to approve a sales tax increase to bolster mental health services approved for the ballot by the city council.
It doesn’t matter the size of the community you visit in Colorado — every city has experienced the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has affected both physical and mental health.
“I think a lot of people who maybe never thought they needed help, or maybe are at a point where they are exploring and saying, 'I might need some ways to deal with this,'” said Dixie Casford, the Co-CEO of Mental Health Partners. “The behavioral health tsunami is what it’s been called.”
For the past 60 years, the nonprofit has worked in Boulder and Broomfield counties offering services that range from mental health support to housing and employment programs.
In a city like Lafayette, these services are critical. The city does not have its own health and human services department, so it relies on partnerships with nonprofits to help fill the gaps.
However, in recent years, the city council says along with an increase in caseloads, it has seen a decline in county, state and federal support for mental health.
In an effort to better support these services, the Lafayette City Council approved the ballot measure this month to ask voters to raise sales taxes.
The initiative would raise taxes by 0.1%, or about a penny on every $10 spent. The current sales tax for the city (excluding county and state sales taxes) is 3.5%.
“Our sales tax is right in line with the neighboring communities and we feel like we have some room to absorb an additional tax,” said Mayor Pro Tem Stephanie Walton.
Lafayette would not be the first city to try to raise a tax to support mental health services; Denver and Larimer County have both taken similar steps in the past.
Casford says she supports the initiative because unlike grants, this ballot measure would help nonprofits not only expand but maintain services.
“The challenge is always how do you make it sustainable. When one-time dollars come in, it was really hard because you want to do something that is bold and accessible but also sustainable,” Casford said. “The flexibility that a ballot initiative provides and the sustainability are the two most critical aspects.”
A separate ballot initiative would also increase sales taxes to help with public safety funding.
This initiative asks voters to raise the sales tax by an additional 0.27%, or about 2.7 cents on a $10 purchase.
The money would help buy new equipment for police officers and firefighters. For the fire department, it would mean replacing old fire ladder trucks, fire engines and ambulances. The city would also like to hire new employees.
For the police department, the money would go the help hire additional officers, buy body cameras (something that was mandated under SB-217) and hiring more mental health co-responders.
Lafayette says its public safety agencies aren’t staffed enough to fully protect the city and it has seen significant growth.
“We’re looking at the Public Safety tax to make sure that we have first responders that can respond in a timely manner with safe and maintained and up-to-date equipment. We’re also looking to invest in a co-responder program that has been launched here in the region,” Walton said.
She believes these two ballot initiatives will compliment one another to help support Lafayette. Voters will have the final say in November.