Rolling Meadows hikes sales tax to fund new social services department

Rolling Meadows aldermen have approved a quarter point increase in the local sales tax to help fund a new city human services department.

The home-rule sales tax hike, from 1% to 1.25%, would affect purchases of goods and services except groceries, medicine and licensed personal property like automobiles. It is expected to generate an estimated $750,000 in new revenue annually.

The increase will not take effect until Jan. 1, but the city council had to approve an ordinance before an Oct. 1 deadline set by the state, which collects the tax on behalf of the city. City council members unanimously approved the change without discussion Tuesday night, but that followed extensive discussion during previous meetings about expanding the police department's social services outreach division into a full-fledged city department.

"The human services department would be a great addition to the city," Alderperson Stefanie Boucher said Sept. 12. "If you read the police blotter the last few weeks, the number of domestic and family calls that go out - we just do not have the staff ... to handle that."

Plans calls for the city to increase staffing from two to five. Social services manager Natalia Nieves would oversee a police social service provider, community social service provider, mental health clinician and office manager - all of whom would be full-time, bilingual employees.

Officials say it would meet the high demand for mental health support, case management, crisis intervention, short-term counseling, court advocacy and officer wellness programs in the city. Similar municipal departments exist in Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Hoffman Estates.

Police Chief John Nowacki said his department's operational response to calls for service wouldn't change in the short term - cops, not social workers, would remain the first responders - but he believes hiring additional social workers would help reduce that call volume in the long run. Police receive at least 10,000 such calls annually.

"I'd be very excited to see that expansion," Nowacki said. "I know there's a cost to that. But it will definitely benefit the residents."

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