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updated: 1/11/2013 4:48 AM

Kane County spikes developmentally disabled tax referendum

Committee votes it down after residents' advocates speak out against it

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It seemed like the supporters of a new tax in Kane County to help developmentally disabled residents anticipated all the opposition's talking points Thursday morning.

They told members of the county board's executive committee to not be swayed by the opinions of a vocal minority. Remember the 12,000 petition signatures. Let the voters be the ones who decide if they can afford this tax or not.

But when it came time for a county board committee to vote on placing a referendum on the April ballot, some of the biggest advocates for developmentally disabled residents turned out to speak against it -- and the committee voted it down.

A recent law change forced the county to create a volunteer mental health advisory committee to examine the local mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability needs. Members of that committee are about a month away from presenting their findings and suggestions to the county board.

But in a sneak preview that undercut the call for an April referendum, members of the advisory committee told board members the potential tax is the wrong solution. The best solution involves funding for mental health and substance abuse services, not just developmental disabilities, they said.

Still, supporters of the referendum said a partial solution is better than doing nothing.

"I think we have an obligation to provide funding for people who are at a developmental disadvantage," county board member John Hoscheit said.

"And I think what we're going to hear from the mental health advisory committee later on is there is a financial need."

Hoscheit proposed putting the tax-increase question on the April ballot and, if voters approved the new tax, levying only a portion of the $12.8 million allowable.

At that point, the county could lobby state lawmakers to allow the new tax to also provide funding for mental health and substance abuse programs.

Under that schedule, residents with developmental disabilities wouldn't continue to languish on waiting lists for services until the next time a referendum could get on the ballot.

Ultimately, promises to keep taxes flat just made during board members' November election campaigns combined with a desire to let the mental health advisory committee to complete its work. The committee killed the referendum quest with a 6-2 vote against putting the question on the April ballot.

"In my heart I can't put any more burden on our taxpayers," county board member Barb Wojnicki said.

The decision means it will be at least another two years before developmentally disabled residents get any tax funding from their neighbors.

Advocates were only about 8,000 signatures short of getting the question on the April ballot without the help of the county board and may try that avenue in 2014.

Even if a referendum made the ballot at that point it would be another year before the taxes were collected and available to help provide services.

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