Last fall, Kane County Board members rejected a plan to ask residents if they wanted a new tax to support developmentally disabled members of their community. This fall, people in support of that new tax are bringing that plan directly to voters.
Thousands of Kane County residents signed petitions that will place a binding tax increase referendum on the March 2014 ballot. The plan would generate about $12 million to improve services for residents with Down syndrome, autism or other intellectual disabilities.
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Illinois has a waiting list of people seeking services that is so long that many people have waited 10 years or longer. The result is, when a person with a developmental disability turns 22, or other graduates out of the local school system, all the training they've received to live as independent, productive members of society slowly goes to waste as all the support programs vanish.
"It's very frustrating for school personnel, and it's heartbreaking for the parents to not have those services in place," said John Knewitz, a former assistant superintendent for St. Charles Unit District 303 who oversaw special education. "As far as I'm concerned it's a travesty that we have this population of our fellow citizens who do not have the types of support that they need to have some determination in their lives and to fulfill their dreams just like the rest of us."
Knewitz is part of a group called "Show You Care Kane" that is supporting the tax increase. Several members of developmental disability service providers, parents of disabled children and appointed members of local 708 service boards constitute the group. There are about 40,000 Kane County residents with some form of developmental disability.
If county residents approve the March tax increase, the actual impact on local tax bills will be in the hands of the Kane County Board. A vote in favor of the increase would force the county board to create a new committee that would set the amount of the disability tax.
The proposal seeks a tax of up to 10 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. If the county board goes along with that maximum levy, the owner of the average $200,000 home would see his property tax bill increase by about $55 a year.
Getting the county board to agree to that full levy may be a challenge. A county board committee shot down the idea of even putting the question to voters last year in a desire to send a message that county board members were committed to keeping property taxes from increasing.
However, four current county board members are supporting the push for the new tax: Mike Donahue, Drew Frasz, John Hoscheit and Jennifer Laesch.
Supporters of the new tax also project the additional money would create about 400 local jobs at organizations who provide services to people with developmental disabilities.
Supporters plan to spend the next six months educating the public about the need for the money. They've created a website where residents can ask questions about the referendum: http://showyoucarekane.com