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Supervisors OK New Taxes for Mental Health Services : Government: The levies on utilities, amusement park tickets and landfill dumping will take effect only in unincorporated areas.

January 23, 1991|IRENE WIELAWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved three new taxes that will raise an estimated $18.3 million in the 1990-91 fiscal year for county mental health programs.

Approved were a 5% tax on electricity, telephone and gas utilities, a 2% tax on amusement park admission fees and a 10% tax on user fees at waste disposal facilities. The taxes apply only to residents and businesses in unincorporated areas of the county.

The utilities and amusement park taxes are retroactive to Jan. 1. The amusement park tax is to end July 1. The taxes on utilities and landfill fees have no expiration date. The landfill tax takes effect March 1.

The supervisors set an expiration date for the amusement park tax because they feared a long-term tax might put too great an economic burden on the parks, according to Dawson Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, sponsor of the tax.

The only parks affected are Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and the Universal Studios tour. The landfill user fee and utilities taxes are consistent with those levied by municipalities in the county. If state funding for mental health improves next year, the money from these taxes could be used to restore mental health programs cut in previous years or for other county programs, Oppenheimer said.

The $18.3 million in new taxes is among measures that will raise about $23.8 million this fiscal year to offset cuts in state aid for mental health programs. In December, the Board of Supervisors raised the hotel and motel occupancy tax from 10% to 12%, ordered $4 million in countywide belt-tightening to free money for the Department of Mental Health, and reappropriated $250,000 from each of the five supervisors' discretionary funds.

Without additional money, mental health advocates said, the number of programs and clinics forced to close would effectively destroy the county's mental health system.

In a series of hearings that began last November, dozens of patients, mental health workers and administrators described the consequences of such a drastic curtailment, which they said would leave an estimated 27,000 patients without care. Police officials predicted that crime would increase and that many patients abandoned by the mental health system would end up homeless.

The new taxes were approved on a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Pete Schabarum cast the dissenting vote.

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