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posted: 6/26/2013 12:01 AM

Mental health funding pits north vs. south in Kane County

Mental health aid varies by geography

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A civil war over funding for mental health services in Kane County has broken out.

Kane County's Mental Health Advisory Committee was recently tasked by state legislation to examine services to residents with mental illness, substance abuse problems or developmental disabilities. The idea was to find the service gaps and develop recommendations for how to fix them. But the committee's recommendation pits the northern part of the county against the rest.

Committee members support creating a countywide 708 board that would oversee the distribution of tax dollars collected specifically for the three mental health service areas. Currently, seven townships and two municipalities, each with their own 708 board and tax levy, oversee all the money collected.

But all of those boards exist in the south and central portions of the county. The northern portion, roughly 40 percent of the county, has no 708 board or funding for mental health services.

"You can meet unmet needs," committee member William Beith said to a gathering of Kane County board members Tuesday. "You've got people in the north of the county who don't have access to services."

But there are mental health service providers on the south end of the county, such as the Aurora-based INC Board, that receive a large share of the existing funding and don't want to change the current setup.

INC Board Executive Director Jerry Murphy said the model for providing mental health services places high value on local control of the funds. The nine existing 708 boards pull in about $2.7 million in local dollars to support residents needing various services. And local control helps ensure the money is spent in the right places, Murphy said.

"What we really need to talk about is the 40 percent of the county that doesn't have 708 boards," Murphy said. "Any of those townships or municipalities within those townships, by referendum, could establish a 708 board."

In other words, don't fix what isn't broken on the south side of the county. Instead, use that model to create a similar system on the north side.

The problem is, in the 43 years since the initial six townships on the south end of the county established their 708 boards, none of the northern townships or municipalities have successfully followed that example.

"The result is if you live on the northern end, you cannot get services unless you go to Aurora," Beith said. "It's not right."

In an interview, Beith said those north residents can get service on the south end only if they meet special criteria for being an out-of-service-area patient. If not, then residents on the north end may find limited or no mental health treatment available to them. A countywide 708 board with a countywide tax would provide equity, Beith said.

But aside from the roadblock on the southern end, there is a legislative hurdle to clear.

State law doesn't allow Kane County to establish a countywide 708 board. So special state legislation would need to be crafted and signed into law to let it happen.

Then voters would have to approve creating the 708 board and a tax to fund mental health services on a countywide basis. For residents on the north end, that would mean agreeing to a new tax. For residents on the south end, it could mean a tax reduction if the tax levy is low enough and spread over enough taxpayers to reduce their mental health tax burden.

The decision to place any countywide referendum on the ballot rests with the county board.

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