Wheeling Township plans do-over on mental health board referendum

Wheeling Township voters again will be asked to create a mental health board, and a tax to fund it, after officials acted Tuesday to place the question on the March 19, 2024, ballot.

The planned revote comes after the township board's attorney told officials that a flaw in the language of the previous referendum request - approved by a slim majority of voters in November 2022 - could expose the township to costly litigation.

The mental health board, also known as a 708 board, would direct funding from a new tax to address mental health, substance abuse disorders and developmental disabilities in Wheeling Township.

Township attorney Kenneth Florey said last year's ballot question failed to contain required language about the financial impact on homeowners. If the township levies a tax without providing that transparency, it could face a tax rate objection and, if the litigation drags on, "be looking at 10 years of refunds for the levy."

But proponents of the first effort called Tuesday's action hasty, saying a legislative solution is on the horizon in the General Assembly's upcoming veto session. The board could hold off until as late as December and still have time to get the question on the March ballot, they said.

"The veto session will be over well before this board has to make that decision (on another referendum)," said Lorri Grainawi, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Barrington.

But Florey warned that the legislation could be overturned by the courts, and the township would still be vulnerable.

"It's not a get out of jail free card," he said. "It's not going to remove the risks."

While the already appointed mental health board can continue to meet, it does not have a revenue source to support local initiatives.

"It's great to have an advisory group, (but) the big need is funding," Grainawi said.

Township Supervisor Kathy Penner disputed claims by some that the board's action shows it opposes a mental health board.

"We need to do this to protect against challenges," she said. "And I believe that waiting for a legislative fix is not the ideal answer."

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.