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Board would coordinate mental-health services

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A bipartisan effort is underway to create a governing board that would help coordinate the delivery of new mental- and behavioral-health services in the metropolitan area.

The group could include representatives from Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque, the state government and University of New Mexico Hospital, among others, supporters say.

The talks come as Bernalillo County prepares to impose a tax increase that would provide about $20 million a year for new mental-health programs.

There’s no comprehensive plan yet for how to spend the money.

Approval of the tax increase came on a party-line vote – with Democrats in the majority – but pursuit of a regional approach to delivering the services has broad support.

“Nobody on the commission would like it to be a situation where it’s just the county doing it alone,” said Commissioner Art De La Cruz, a Democrat who sponsored a resolution formalizing the effort.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican, was also a sponsor.

“It’s too heavy a lift for Bernalillo County to go it alone … If we do it right, we would be able to leverage city, county and state funding to also receive federal funding,” he said.

The city and county already are talking about how to proceed.

They’ve tentatively agreed to discuss it during a joint meeting of the city-county Government Commission.

“Certainly, the city ought to have a place at the table even though it’s a county tax,” City Councilor Isaac Benton, a Democrat, said in an interview.

He estimated the city already spends about $15 million on behavioral health and housing programs.

Councilor Brad Winter, a Republican, said he, too, liked the idea of working more closely together to coordinate the decision-making on behavioral health.

There are plenty of ideas for where the new county money might go, and the county is hiring a consultant to help sort them out.

A task force of city, county and state officials last year recommended starting a crisis stabilization center, a step-down from a jail or an emergency-room setting.

It would be a place where family members could take people who are in crisis or struggling with their mental health but are not a threat to themselves or others, supporters say.

The task force also recommended better “case management,” or systems that connect people with services already available, and addressing the need for supportive housing – a place where people struggling with mental illness could get long-term help.