Detox center may depend on tax increase |

Detox center may depend on tax increase

Garfield County leaders largely agree that a new sales tax is the only way to ensure stable financing for a new detox center.

Police chiefs, the sheriff, hospital administrators and local government officials filled the room Thursday for a forum in Glenwood Springs on the potential detox center.

Past efforts to establish a detox center have been consistently plagued by funding issues, largely because they drew money from several sources like local governments, said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.

When one of those groups would back out, the whole program would collapse.

Silt Police Chief Levy Burris suggested creating a new quarter- or half-cent sales tax that would be dedicated to the detox program.

If funding is secured, Mind Springs Health, the nonprofit proposing the center, expects 2016 operating expenses to run more than $536,000.

That’s not including startup costs like remodeling and modifying a building for detox purposes. For one location the nonprofit was considering, the startup costs were going to be about $144,500.

And in 2017 the operating costs would rise to about $701,000 for the first full year the center would be in operation.

Commissioner John Martin objected to a tax increase. The county should reallocate the money it’s already collecting rather than collect more, he said.

And if the issue goes to the ballot, residents should be able to vote for either increasing the county sales tax or repurposing the money already collected, said Martin.

He suggested taking money from road and bridge spending to finance the detox center.

2 detox beds not enough

The facility proposed for Glenwood Springs is only a two-bed detox center. It would be equipped for people intoxicated on alcohol or other drugs, mental health issues or a combination of all of the above, said Jacqueline Skramstad, regional director of Mind Springs.

Law enforcement representatives at Thursday’s forum were concerned that two beds wouldn’t be enough.

“I could fill those [two beds] by noon,” said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson.

Skramstad hoped the chosen building would have room for expansion later.

Both law enforcement and hospital representatives said neither of them were the appropriate avenue for detox care.

Putting intoxicated people in the hospital means fewer in-patient beds available, and having officers deal with them means fewer cops for other emergencies.

It was telling that there’s a higher representation of the law enforcement community at the meeting than any other group, said Wilson.

Law enforcement personnel supported a detox center, but all of them stood against financing it from their own budgets.

Intoxication is not a crime, it’s a societal issue, said Wilson.

Nevertheless, law enforcement officers are often on the front lines of dealing with intoxicated people, said Sheriff Lou Vallario.

In fact, that was an issue that led to the closure of the last detox facility in Glenwood in 2011. After Mind Springs closed its facility in the 700 block of Grand Avenue, a two-bed detox unit was temporarily housed in the Garfield County Jail for a little over a year.

That facility was closed when funding and staffing problems arose, and due to concerns about the jail setting for people who are merely drunk and a danger to themselves and others, but not facing any criminal charges.

Nor is a hospital right, said Dr. Al Saliman, Valley View’s chief medical officer, who added that Garfield County has the most expensive and least effective system for dealing with intoxicated people.

Trying to care for intoxicated people has been a risky business, with many nurses getting assaulted in the process.

A day hardly goes by without four to six of Valley View’s in-patient beds taken up by intoxicated people, he said.

Hospital administrators said they are ready to put forward financial and administrative resources into the detox center.

Location, location, location

Financing the facility and program is the first of the detox center’s two big hurdles. The location of the facility is the second. And while the forum gained ground on financing, it did not on finding a suitable location.

Wilson pressed Mind Springs to consider property it already owns near Valley View Hospital, which he said is in an ideal location on several levels.

Part of the difficulty of a good location is balancing the needs of proximity to a hospital, proximity to law enforcement and dealing with neighbors who won’t want a detox center next door.

Skramstad wasn’t sure that location would be suitable, partly because it’s much larger than the detox would need. Also, Mind Springs has plans to knock that building down and erect a new outpatient facility, she said.

In the long term it might work, said Skramstad. But she also wants to get a two-bed center up and running for the short term.

To market the additional sales tax, county leaders will have to make a big effort to educate the public on the need, said Wilson and Vallario.

The federal and state governments won’t extend any help for a detox center, said Vallario. The country has decided that this is a community problem, and the individual communities are the ones that have to deal with it, he said.

Wilson was confident that the community would respond well to the sales tax question.

Though the state ranks near the bottom for spending on these kinds of services, Garfield County is an area where people want to take care of each other, he said.

Adding a new sales tax would take time, presumably not before the November 2016 election. Burris suggested a two-pronged approach to address long-term solutions and getting a two-bed detox center up and running in the meantime.

How the short-term detox center would be financed is still unclear. A task force made up of representatives from law enforcement, the hospitals, each local government, public health, the human services department, a community member and a past Mind Springs client will move those plans forward.

The next meeting on the potential detox center is expected to be in January.

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