Milwaukee County Leaders Eyeing Sales Tax Increase To Pay For Mental Health, COVID-Related Services

Dec 9, 2020

Milwaukee County is going to make another attempt to raise the local sales tax to pay for services. County Executive David Crowley says he and partners plan to ask the Republican-controlled legislature to approve a binding referendum asking local voters to increase the sales tax by 1%.

The county would use the extra revenue for mental health services, as well as COVID-19 and property tax relief.

Crowley says stress over the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many county residents. “In the most recent data, county EMS data comparing last month to November of 2019, psychological calls are up 128%. Overdose calls are up 57% and suicide attempt calls are up 38%,” he says.

Crowley says the county is seeing the highest numbers of calls for help in the Black community. “They make up 39% of the total mental health-related calls. And African Americans only make up a quarter, about 27%, of the people in the county. So, this is overrepresentation of Black folks and yet another example of the racial disparities that we currently see in our community,” he says.

The measure likely faces an uphill battle. Milwaukee city and county leaders have asked the Legislature several times to allow referendums on sales tax increases, but to no avail. Previous proposals sought funding for park maintenance and police.