Mental health funding proposal too close to call in Milton Township

A referendum campaign in Milton Township to improve access to disability and mental health services has ended with a cliffhanger.

Advocates are left in limbo in their attempt to pass a tax increase request to create what's known as a 708 board, the second of its kind in DuPage County. The board would distribute the funding in the form of grants to local providers of disability, mental health and addiction services.

But the results of the binding referendum question remain too close to call. Just 133 votes out of 15,797 votes cast separate the funding request from success or failure.

Unofficial tallies showed the measure received 7,965 "no" votes versus 7,832 "yes" votes.

County election authorities are still counting mail-in ballots that must be returned within two weeks of Election Day to be included in the final results.

Referendum organizers this week plan to observe the process to get a sense of how many mail-in ballots are coming in from Milton Township and whether there's enough to make up the gap.

State election officials on Wednesday reported up to 5,785 outstanding mail-in ballots countywide. County election officials are not expected to post additional vote counts until Friday.

"I think we all felt, though, the outpouring of support that this was such a close decision, that it gives us some positive energy for continuing the conversation ... and to see what happens after this week," said Erica Nelson, a referendum committee organizer.

The question was placed on the ballot after a petition drive organized by a group of residents collected more than 1,700 signatures.

If it does pass, township trustees would get the final say on the amount residents would pay in additional taxes each year. But the request caps the tax levy for the mental health board at 0.15% of the assessed value of taxable property.

A waiting listing to access state-funded disability services was part of the impetus behind the referendum effort. That list in Illinois is nearly 18,000 people long.

In the lead-up to the election, Glen Ellyn mom Julie Evans, whose 21-year-old son has Down syndrome, said adult day services are another area of need, especially during the pandemic. Such programs provide respite for caregivers while helping their loved ones develop skills.

"The caregivers and the individuals with developmental disabilities themselves," she said, "are having an increased need for mental health care during this whole year plus of dealing with that and having so much taken away from their life."

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