'A heart for change': Advocates celebrate voters' approval of mental health boards

Voters in four suburban counties made a strong statement Tuesday about the importance of treating mental health.

In referendums this fall, voters approved tax increases allowing for the creation of community mental health boards - also known as 708 boards - succeeded in Addison, Lisle, Naperville, Schaumburg, Wheeling and Vernon townships, as well as Will County.

Only in Winfield Township did the no votes appear to prevail - and 708 board proponents are hopeful that votes left to be counted will push that one over the top as well.

The appointed boards, which already exist in suburban townships including Bloomingdale, Dundee and Hanover, would allocate tax dollars to local agencies that assist people living with mental health issues, developmental disabilities or substance abuse disorders.

In Wheeling Township, voters backed the proposal - expected to cost the typical homeowner about $32 a year - despite organized opposition that received funding from billionaire megadonor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest.

"The voters understand the desperate need we have for more mental health care in this state," proponent Arlen Gould said Wednesday. "And they reject the argument that $32 a year is too much to pay to improve our mental health care in our local communities."

Naperville resident Lisa Rose, a community activist who worked on behalf of the proposals in Lisle and Naperville townships, said the issue resonates with voters.

"When we were collecting petition signatures, we heard a lot of stories from people, stories in their own lives. I have a neighbor down the street that had a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities and (heard) how hard they had to fight for her to get services," she said.

"I didn't have to convince them," Rose added. "People know that this has been an issue for a while."

Michael Murray, with the Bloomingdale Township Mental Health Auxiliary, said the results show these issues affect everyone. "And it also shows that our community has a heart for those in need in our communities," he said. "I call it a heart for change."

Murray said once people see the results a 708 board can produce, they will want it for their communities.

Buffalo Grove village Trustee Joanne Johnson, an advocate for the 708 board in Vernon Township, also sees a groundswell on the horizon.

"I think the passage of the mental health referenda shows that the voters recognize that we are in the middle of a mental health crises," she said.

The Vernon Township 708 board will be the first in Lake County. With its passage, along with the one in Wheeling Township, both the Cook and Lake county portions of Buffalo Grove will be served.

"We're hoping to see a domino effect, where other townships now put this on the ballot and we could have community mental boards spread throughout Lake County," Johnson said.

Why mental health is on the ballot in the suburbs this fall

With opposition emerging, 708 mental health board supporters press their case

On suburban ballots Tuesday: Amendments, tax hikes, school projects and more

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