Confusion about Dundee, Elgin township mental health boards may result in county proposal

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham's decision to not include new taxes for mental health services in Dundee and Elgin townships is fueling a renewed push to create a countywide approach to help residents access services for mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities.

On Thursday, Dundee Township residents urged members of the county board committee that oversees the clerk's office to at least explain Cunningham's decision, if not reverse it.

The clerk's office notified Dundee and Elgin townships last month that the wording of their successful March 2020 referendums to establish new mental health taxes was not specific enough, under the law, for voters to be aware that voting "yes" would result in a property tax increase.

The tax bills that will start hitting local mailboxes at the end of this month are already being printed without the mental health taxes included, even though Dundee Township voted this week to sue Cunningham's office in hope of reversing the decision.

County board members learned Thursday they have no authority over Cunningham's office to reverse the decision. However, Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser explained why she advised Cunningham not to collect the taxes.

She pointed to a lawsuit decided in 2016 between the clerk's office and the Hampshire Township Road District over a similar situation where Cunningham decided not to levy a new tax township residents approved at an annual township meeting. The key point in that decision was the court deciding the township was bound by the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law that spells out the impact of the tax increase for a property owner.

Neither Dundee Township nor Elgin Township used that language.

Mosser blamed the attorneys advising the townships on the proper conduct of the referendum.

"It is not the job of Mr. Cunningham's office to give any type of legal advice that those (referendums) are invalid or in any way defective," Mosser said. "The townships had the ability to speak with Mr. Cunningham about that. And then Mr. Cunningham can contact the state's attorney's office, and we could then have given an advisory opinion in regards to the language. Unfortunately, that wasn't done."

Mosser said it's unfortunate the referendums did not meet the legal wording requirements because she supports improved access to mental health resources. Hearing that, county board Chair Corinne Pierog called on the county board to revisit the idea of creating a countywide 708 board to address inequities of accessing such services in the county. Such boards are present in Aurora and the central part of the county, but they do not exist on the northern end.

Previous efforts to create a countywide 708 board have failed after meeting resistance from existing 708 boards. The fear from opponents is a countywide 708 board would either force local 708 boards to dissolve, resulting in less assistance for their specific residents or double taxation for the same services if the existing boards remain in place. Pierog suggested those concerns could be addressed by including a local opt-out provision.

"This is a need that is not going to be going away," Pierog said. "We have all seen the growth in opium addictions."

Board member Ken Shepro, who is also chairman of the Kane County GOP, also supported the idea of considering a countywide referendum to form a Kane County 708 board.

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