Voters in Vernon Township in southern Lake County are asked if they support the creation of an annual tax that funds community mental health facilities and services.
A Mental Health Advisory Board will be established that will award grants and fund programs to help residents with mental health, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities.
The referendum states that the estimated annual tax cannot exceed 0.037% of the assessed value of the property, and it is estimated that the property’s fair market value of $100,000 will cost $12.33 annually. The township tax would increase from about $3.82 million to just under $5.29 million.
If voters approved the referendum, Vernon Township Superintendent John Altenberg said the average Vernon Township homeowner would see an annual increase of about $49, and that the question was raised after a change in state law that allowed the creation of a community mental health board, or 708 board, With less money.
Altenberg said the referendum would ensure that local taxpayers’ money would be used in the town itself.
“The council that is going to be set up, any decision it makes has to be approved by the town council, but it basically makes grants specifically for health care services,” Altenberg said. “This requires that the money stay in the town, and that it be used for programs in town for community members who live in town.”
Joan Johnson has advocated for the town of Vernon and the town of Wheeling, located south of Cook County, for proposing referendums on creating mental health boards this year.
“We all hear…every time something happens, ‘we need to do something about mental health,'” Johnson said. locally and trying to reduce these wait times and queues (for mental health support).”
Similar referendums are being proposed in four DuPage County townships, and at the county level for residents of Will County.
Altenberg said local lawmakers such as state senator Adrian Johnson, D-Buffalo Grove, and state Rep. Dan Dyddick, D-Buffalo Grove, helped pass legislation that would allow the board of directors to be created while imposing a lower amount.
Didek told News-Sun that people’s mental health is “getting worse in many different contexts,” citing issues for adults, young adults, and first responders.
“It’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better, and we hope that if this referendum passes, we hope we can turn this ship around,” Didek said.
“We are aware of the high level of property tax in the region,” he added. “It’s something we’ve been responsive to a lot. We don’t want to overburden anyone, which is why we passed the legislation to make sure that this tax would be implemented at an appropriate level and wouldn’t overburden people.”
Altenberg said the town of Vernon does not want to negatively impact residents’ property tax bills, noting that it has cut taxes “significantly over the past six years,” and that the referendum comes during what he feels is a “mental health crisis” in American communities.
“Nearly every year, we cut the tax and tried to get rid of waste,” Altenberg said.
“Especially with inflation, it’s hard to ask people to subsidize something that’s going to cost money, but that’s why we’ve cut the cost so dramatically and it can’t go beyond where the tax is,” he continued. “It’s limited, so it’s going to stay under $50, about $49 per family on average per year and it can’t go up. It’s going to have to come back for a referendum to do that.”