Substance abuse programs funded by liquor taxes

By Mike Sherry, HCF guest blogger and KHI News Service journalist

Officials in Johnson County are about to kick off a process that distributes more than a million dollars each year to fight substance abuse within the county’s schools and communities.

And, the funding comes courtesy of liquor sales.

Since the late 1970s, Kansas has imposed a 10 percent tax on alcoholic drinks sold by clubs, caterers and drinking establishments.

The tax generated about $38.2 million statewide in fiscal year 2012, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

By law, the state retains some of that money for general purposes and for an alcoholism program. Localities get back 70 percent of the tax revenues generated by the establishments within their boundaries.

Different spending rules apply to that money for counties and for communities with populations on either side of a 6,000-person threshold.

For the most part, some of the money is unrestricted and some must go for parks and recreation purposes. The rest is what’s available for substance abuse programs.

Officials in Johnson County think they’ve got a unique system for distributing the portion of the liquor tax funds earmarked for substance abuse programs.

The county and nine participating municipalities pool funds, which amounted to about $1.5 million this year, including some administrative fees that United Community Services of Johnson County uses to manage the Drug & Alcoholism Council of Johnson County.

Some localities hold back a portion of their funds to allocate on their own.

The pooled money this year funded 24 grants to several organizations, including the six public school districts in the county and the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

A representative from each participating jurisdiction has a seat on the Drug & Alcoholism Council of Johnson County.

Each year, the council issues a request-for-proposals to organizations interested in applying for funds. UCS is holding a pre-proposal meeting for next year’s funding at 8:30 a.m. on May 23 at its offices, 12351 W. 96th Terrace in Lenexa.

Eligible applicants are public school districts, nonprofits, or units of county government.

Once the council vets applications, it sends out its nonbinding funding recommendations to elected officials in each of the participating jurisdictions.

United Community Services officials argue that the council approach is efficient, since it provides one funding process rather than having each jurisdiction parcel out its own funds.

They also argue that the Johnson County structure provides good oversight, with grantees required to report two times per year to the agency. The reports include outcomes, the number of people served from each city, and a financial report.

It’s hard to know if Johnson County is indeed unique in its approach. The Department of Revenue said it doesn’t track how each community distributes its dollars.

Johnson County’s approach does differ from that of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan.

The Unified Government has a committee that reviews funding requests for the substance abuse money.
Commissioners from the Unified Government appoint members of that committee, so in that way, the various municipalities in the county do have representation on the committee. But unlike in Johnson County, the committee members do not come specifically from each participating community.

Johnson County, however, does not have a Major League Soccer team.

Beer sales at the Sporting Kansas City games in western Wyandotte County are a big reason why the county’s liquor excise tax revenues have spiked by about 20 percent within the last three years, said Budget Director Reginald J. Lindsey Jr.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at



About Bridget's Blog

Bridget McCandless

Bridget McCandless, MD, MBA, FACP, HCF President/CEO

Bridget McCandless is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with an interest in chronic disease management and poverty medicine. She shares her thoughts and perspectives on health and policy issues that impact the health of the community as a whole.

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