The future of mental health care funding is uncertain in Kane County as a special committee's recommendations to officials conflict with what some existing service providers want and what a pending new tax will fund.
The county's Mental Health Advisory Committee recommended the formation of a countywide mental health 708 board -- named after a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives -- earlier this year. The advisory group attempted to move in that direction last week by calling for the formation of a "consolidation committee," which would establish a legal framework for how to absorb the nine existing 708 boards on the central and south ends of the county into one board.
The existing 708 boards operate through local townships or municipalities and levy a tax earmarked to help residents with developmental disabilities and mental health and substance abuse issues. Aurora, Batavia, Big Rock, Blackberry, Kaneville, Sugar Grove and Virgil Townships all host 708 boards, as do the municipalities of Geneva and St. Charles.
There are no 708 boards, and no specific tax, to help residents on the north end of the county. The advisory committee wants one countywide tax and one board to administer the funds.
"We are looking for an economically efficient, equitable solution to this problem," committee member William Beith said. "We don't think it is fair that people currently come in for treatment, and they're asked what is your address, not what's wrong. Where you live in the county should not have any bearing on your ability to get services."
Supporters of the current system weren't at the meeting last Tuesday. However, Jerry Murphy, executive director of INC Board, the local mental health authority based in Aurora, said in an interview earlier this year that the advisory committee's recommendations are an attempt to fix what isn't broken.
"We have 60 percent of the county that has made the commitment for decades and has been supporting those services since 1970," Murphy said. "The idea that you somehow have to fix the whole county is a real misconception. The path of least resistance would be to do a 708 board for the areas that don't have one."
The INC Board works with the seven 708 boards on the south end of the county to distribute the funds the boards collect. It keeps about 13 percent of the money collected for administrative costs.
Murphy suggests putting a referendum on the ballot in Rutland Township or the city of Elgin to create a local 708 board and a new tax to fund mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services. Murphy acknowledges that would be an uphill battle, as the north end of the county historically has opposed new property taxes.
Still, Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen supports a similar strategy.
"Why not take a step toward consolidation by creating 708s in the non-served areas, and then when those are running, go into a countywide consolidation?" Lauzen said. "Hopefully, that's one of the alternatives."
Beith said that could be discussed. However, he said more 708 boards mean more, and perhaps less efficient, layers of government. Adding 708 boards in the northern townships would spawn as many as 140 people serving on 708 boards throughout the county.
The consolidation committee is also needed to examine legal issues, Beith added. Right now, the only way to dissolve the existing 708 boards is to ask voters. There is also a question about whether or not the county has the legal authority to establish a countywide 708 board.
Further muddying the issue is a pending referendum on the March 2014 ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a new countywide tax that would provide additional funds for residents with developmental disabilities, but not for those with mental health and substance abuse issues. The tax would be administered by a new county committee. It's not clear if that committee or those funds could be absorbed into a countywide 708 board.
County board members await a future presentation from the mental health advisory committee on how the consolidation might work before deciding what action to take.