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County OKs funds for behavioral health services

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the four years since Bernalillo County residents began paying a special behavioral health tax, leaders have approved nearly $19 million worth of recurring annual spending on a series of programs.

But the county wants to know where needs still exist – and to provide one-time funding to help fill them.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved up to $3 million in startup or capital spending to create or expand behavioral health services, allowing providers to apply for money through a forthcoming request for proposals.

“This is a wider net that we’re casting, (but it) will follow the model we’ve been utilizing around problem-based procurement,” said Margarita Chavez-Sanchez, acting director of the county’s Behavioral Health Services Department. “It really puts the onus on the community to tell us what they believe is the best way to address those gaps that maybe we haven’t addressed in the past.”

She said she has heard requests for a mental health clinic in the International District and for services to help kids aging out of foster care, though the process is likely to reveal many different ideas and plans.

“These providers in the community are the experts – they have their pulse on the needs in the community,” Chavez-Sanchez said. “We want them to inform us on what those projects look like.”

Applicants will have to go through the county’s formal procurement process, she said, and proposals will be vetted by a committee that includes subject matter experts, county staff and community members. Representatives from the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research will provide technical expertise, she said.

The behavioral health tax is expected to yield $22 million this year, according to county documents. While $18.9 million is already dedicated on a recurring basis, about $9.4 million in accumulated funds is available for one-time expenditures, Chavez-Sanchez said. The commission voted 3-0 to spend up to $3 million of that over three years on the new initiative.

In other action: The commission also on Tuesday voted to introduce an amendment to the county’s just-passed paid leave ordinance.

The amendment would reduce the amount of paid time off guaranteed to employees at smaller businesses.

The ordinance as approved last month requires businesses to give all employees one hour of paid leave for every 32 hours worked up to 56 hours a year in 2022 and beyond. It applies to businesses with at least two employees in the unincorporated areas of the county, such as the East Mountains and South Valley.

But Commissioners Charlene Pyskoty and Steven Michael Quezada proposed a change that would trim the benefit to 28 hours a year for those who work at companies with 2-10 workers, and 44 hours at companies with 11-34 workers. The pair said they were concerned about the disproportionate burden the original ordinance would put on the small businesses in their districts.

Their amendment will go before the commission for a final vote following a 30-day publication period.


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