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updated: 3/10/2014 7:41 PM

Kane County disability tax proposal still seeing opposition

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Advocates of a new tax that would provide up to $13 million for Kane County residents with development disabilities are trying to educate the public about exactly how the new tax would work. But just the idea of any additional property tax burden has been enough for the tax to gain at least one notable opponent.

County voters will decide if they are willing to raise their property taxes by an average of $55 per year on March 18. If voters say "yes," Kane County will form a developmental disabilities services board, known as a 377 board, to distribute funding to agencies that serve an estimated 20,000 residents with various developmental disability needs.

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The board, consisting of up to five unpaid members, would receive funding through a levy authorized by the county board. The levy can't be zero and can't be more than 0.1 percent of the equalized assessed value of taxable property in the county.

The money collected, about $13 million if the full cap is levied, would then be distributed among about a dozen nonprofit agencies in the county that provide the services. Funds could also be spent at agencies outside the county, but only for services provided to Kane County residents.

Advocates say the new setup is needed because the current system isn't providing enough funding to meet the existing needs. Federal and state funds are not increasing, while the number of local residents needing disability services is.

"When these residents turn 18, they are no longer, technically, the responsibility of their parents," said Pat Flaherty, a board member with the Association for Individual Development. "That means they become a community responsibility. They belong to all of us."

The nonprofit, one of the service providers for people with developmental disabilities, has pumped more than $100,000 into the referendum campaign. AID also has worked to gain handshake agreements from existing 708 boards to avoid double-taxing residents if the new tax is created.

Townships on the south end of the county and the communities of St. Charles and Geneva already tax their residents to help provide services to developmentally disabled residents, as well as residents with substance abuse or mental health problems.

For example, in 2011, all the existing 708 boards in the county collected about $2.38 million in taxes for those three groups of residents. But only about $370,000 of that went to developmental disabilities needs based on the decisions of those individual boards.

There are no 708 boards on the north end of the county, which is part of the reason advocates are pushing for a countywide tax. If the new tax is created, the existing boards will sign agreements stating that they will no longer collect funds for developmental disabilities, according to Flaherty. The boards, however, will still collect taxes to help residents with mental health or substance abuse problems.

John Knewitz, former assistant superintendent of schools in St. Charles School District 303, said the new countywide tax is both the easiest and best way to fund services for developmentally disabled residents.

Knewitz, who oversaw special education services in the school district, said bringing 708 or 377 boards to the north end of the county is unlikely. Dissolving all the existing 708 boards in the south and central portions of the county, and then creating one countywide 708 board, would require multiple referendums with uncertain outcomes.

"I don't see any of those possibilities as being realistic in the foreseeable future," Knewitz said. "The only solution is what we're trying to do."

North Aurora resident Rae Ann McNeilly doesn't believe that's true. She is the executive director of Taxpayers United of America and believes developmental disabilities services can and should be funded through charitable donations, not taxes.

"What they are asking for is not a small amount of money when you're adding to an already huge burden," McNeilly said. "This is a cause that should be supported through volunteer donations, not through force. If we leave money in taxpayers' pockets, they will have more money to support charities."

McNeilly believes the referendum would create a double taxing situation for Kane County residents.

"The majority of the revenue the service providers receive is from the state, so it already comes from taxpayers," she said. "Instead of this referendum, they should be spending money on hosting private fundraisers."

The dollar numbers for charity flowing to Flaherty's AID organization are relatively small. Out of $24.6 million in revenue, only $1.33 million came from charitable contributions, according it is most recent tax statement.

"If there are people who think the tax is too much, we would ask them to turn their attention to the existing county budget and cut true waste in government rather than turning their backs on people whose only contribution to their circumstance was being born," Flaherty said.

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