State-subsidized medical counseling, therapy and care will soon be available in some Chicago suburbs after voters approve property taxes for new mental health programs.
The mental health councils were approved by referendum Tuesday in the townships of Schaumburg, Wheeling and Vernon, three townships in DuPage County and for all of Will County. Voters narrowly rejected the proposal in Winfield Township.
The measures provide for the creation of mental health councils, appointed by county or township supervisors. Councils would typically conduct a needs assessment and then establish a budget and tax levy. Revenues would fund grants to service providers for mental health, developmental disabilities and addictions.
State law allows tax rates up to 0.15% of equalized assessed value, but councils generally set lower rates, a fraction of the 1 county’s overall average property tax rate. 73 in Illinois, according to tax-rates.com.
In the township of Vernon, for example, the rate was set by referendum at 0.037%, at a cost of about $49 for the average homeowner, officials estimated, while raising nearly $1.5 million a year. year. Will County capped the rate at 0.05%.
After approval by township or county councils, mental health boards will distribute the money as grants to service providers for domestic violence, alcoholism, autism, behavioral and emotional problems.
Across the state, there are dozens of local mental health boards, which collectively raise more than $74 million a year, the Illinois Association of Community Mental Health Authorities calculated. Cook County has at least eight townships and the City of Evanston with such programs, and Kane County has nine townships, while Kendall and McHenry counties have countywide programs.
Lorri Grainawai, who handed out flyers in support of the measure in Arlington Heights, said taxpayers are already paying for mental health services in times of crisis, she said, like at the county jail by Cook. Sheriff Tom Dart said it was the largest mental health care provider in the state, with some 2,000 inmates suffering from serious mental illnesses.
Advocates believe mental health programs will save money in the long run by helping people stabilize, find jobs and stay out of trouble.
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Grainawai cited a youngster in special education who stopped his disability benefits and is now working and looking to buy a first home.
“Everyone knows someone who has been affected (by mental health issues) and how difficult it is to get services,” Grainawi said. “People recognize the need, and there is good in people’s hearts.”
Anti-tax groups did not doubt the need, but wondered why the funding did not come from existing public resources. One reason is that the state budget is increasingly going to underfunded pensions rather than services, said Bryce Hill, director of fiscal and economic research for the conservative Illinois Policy Institute.
“This crowding out of public services is why local governments are so dependent on property taxes to fund things like this,” he said.
But one of the benefits of local programs is local control, with services tailored to meet the needs of residents, including family members affected by a loved one’s behavior, advocates said.
With months of waiting for psychiatrists, walk-in services can be offered to people with anxiety or depression who need someone to talk to before they reach a crisis, said Geri Kerger, director Executive of the National Alliance on Mental Illness at DuPage.
“A lot of people have worked to make this happen,” she said, “because they understand the value of these services.”
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