Elgin and Dundee townships will ask voters for mental health funding

Elgin Township and Dundee Township will place referendum questions on the March election ballot asking voters to approve a property tax levy increase to fund services for substance abuse, developmental disabilities and mental health issues.

The referendums would establish a maximum tax levy of 0.15% and allow creation of a mental health board in each township that would disburse funds to local providers. The members of the mental health board, also known as a "708 board," would be appointed by township trustees.

There are nine mental health boards in Kane County, including in Geneva, St. Charles, Aurora Township and Kaneville Township, but none in the northern portion of the county.

In Elgin Township, the new tax levy would yield an estimated $1.4 million per year. The median assessed value of a house in Elgin Township is $55,494, for which the property tax increase would amount to about $85 per year, according to calculations by advocates including Family Service Association of Elgin, the Association for Individual Development and Renz Addiction Counseling Center.

It's still unclear how much money the tax levy increase would yield in Dundee Township, Township Supervisor Patricia A. Glees said. A majority of board members voted Wednesday to place the referendum question on the ballot and there will be an informational campaign in future months, Glees said.

Dundee Township lacks mental health and social services for residents, such as assistance for youths with special needs once they reach age 21, Glees said. The nonprofits advocating for more funding have agreed to expand services into Dundee Township if voters approve the initiative, Glees said.

"Our residents have to leave the township to get these services ... so there's a major gap, a major hole," she said.

Elgin Township trustees unanimously voted this year to place the question on the ballot.

"I see gaps in mental health services in this area," Elgin Township Trustee Susan Van Weelden said. "I see an alarming rate of suicides, and it especially concerns me with teen suicides."

Prevention of problems among children is especially important, said Elgin Township Trustee Vern Tepe, who serves on the board of the Family Service Association.

According to Kane County's 2018 community health needs assessment report, 21% of adults have been diagnosed as having a depressive disorder, 17.8% believe their overall mental health is "fair" or "poor," and 15.5% "seldom" or "never" get the social and emotional support they need.

"The beauty of a mental health board is that the needs of the community that they serve are identified and the resources are directed toward those needs," Jerry Skogmo, executive director of Renz Addiction Counseling Center, told the Elgin City Council during a presentation last week.

After labor and delivery, mental illness is the second-most frequent reason people are hospitalized in Kane County, said Bernadette May, executive director of Family Service Association of Elgin. "Strong community based services are cheaper and more effective," May said.

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