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Some suburban areas vote on plan to expand mental health care

Some suburban voters will be asked in Tuesday’s election whether they want to pay for better mental health services in their communities.

Addison, Naperville, Lyle and Winfield Townships in DuPage County; Schaumburg and Wheeling Townships in Cook County; Vernon Township in Lake County; and referendums will be held throughout Will County on whether to establish a property tax to fund mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services.

It’s a question Lori Granavy, a mental health specialist with the League of Women Voters of Illinois, took personally after the death of her 24-year-old son, Adam, in 2016 when he was hit by a train.

Adam struggled with schizophrenia for years. He had no case manager or social worker to help him follow his recovery plan. His mother believes his death was accidental, but could have been prevented by subsequent services. She knows other families who have experienced similar tragedies and some who have received more help and are doing well.

Community mental health boards, like those proposed in Tuesday’s ballot petition, would provide grants to local agencies to provide such potentially life-saving services. About 90 existing mental health boards in Illinois pay for things like crisis centers, youth mental health screenings and social workers who help police departments deal with people in mental health crises.

“By doing it at the local level,” said Grainavoy, “you’ll be able to meet more local needs.”

Opponents will counter that many agencies already spend millions of dollars providing such services. Federal Medicaid and Medicare, county health departments, and the Illinois Department of Human Services provide mental health services.

Dan Potlak, president of the Wheeling Township Republicans and a former township assessor, said suburbanites are paying too much in property taxes. Local governments in Illinois had the second highest property tax rate among all states, according to WalletHub.

Like some other townships, Wheeling Township already gives about $575,000 in grants to social service agencies, much of it for behavioral and mental health and intellectual disabilities, Potlak said.

“A lot of people, myself included, are sympathetic to the idea that mental health issues are serious and need to be addressed,” Potlak said. “It’s better to redistribute the money that’s already there than to tax people more and hurt their ability to support their families and keep businesses alive and employ people.”

Conservative business owner Richard Wiline donated $25,000 to oppose the measure, Potlak said. Opponents mailed to registered voters in Wheeling Township.

The proposed tax increase is small compared to most other government units, such as schools. Under state law, the maximum property tax rate in the referendum proposals for mental health boards is 0.15%. but such boards are generally taxed at a lower rate. Advocates in the city of Wheeling are calling for a tax rate of 0.026% to raise $1.5 million, roughly $28 in taxes on a $335,000 home.

In 2021, Milton Township voters narrowly approved a mental health board. Jerry Kerger, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in DuPage County, said her council tax bill was $21 for the year.

But any mental health board would be appointed by the city supervisor, and no one knows what tax rate they’ll settle on, Potlak said. If they choose the maximum rate in Wheeling Township, he estimated, the average home tax would be much higher at $151, and the average business would be $375.

Although it is funded, the need for mental health care far exceeds availability.

In Illinois, thousands of people with developmental disabilities are on a years-long waiting list for services.

Nationally, 14 million people had a serious mental illness last year, and 40 million had a substance use disorder, but only a fraction of them received help for these problems. federal review found.

It’s no coincidence that overdose deaths have skyrocketed, and the national suicide rate is expected to rise 4% in 2021, to about 48,000 people — more than double the number of murders — with the increase most noticeable among young people.

Kerger said the nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But she said programs funded by mental health boards include recovery specialists who can help people develop a recovery plan and connect them to appropriate services.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ educational programs in high schools, she said, include people in recovery from substance abuse or mental illness.

“Kids know people who are sick and think there’s nothing you can do,” Kerger said. “They give you hope for recovery.”


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