What’s the holdup?

Wheeling Township making no progress on levying tax for mental health

For more than 16 months, as many townships throughout the suburbs have geared up to address a surge in mental health care needs, those who live in Wheeling Township are left to wonder where their votes went.

On Nov. 8, 2022, voters in Wheeling Township, centered in Arlington Heights, voted 25,755 to 23,607 to establish a mental health board and a corresponding property tax of no more than 15 cents per $100 of assessed value to fund services.

The results were conclusive, the election unchallenged. So why haven’t Wheeling Township trustees moved forward on this, while other township boards have?

Township Supervisor Kathy Penner has said she and the township board are relying on the advice of their attorney, Kenneth Florey, to determine whether the township can tax residents so a new mental health board will have funding for its work.

Florey’s position has been that the referendum question lacked required language informing voters of the impact of the new tax. His concern is a potential costly legal challenge to the tax. He feels another referendum is needed.

Proponents of the measure did not want to go to a repeat referendum this week, given the uncertainties inherent in a low-turnout primary election, and especially considering they already were given a conclusive response from the community in the original referendum.

The township’s 2022 fall newsletter carried an FAQ about the ballot measure that included plenty of details beyond the dry basics one might expect. It mentioned that a yes vote would give the township the authority to levy another $8.57 million every year, that Illinois has the most individual taxing districts at more than 6,500, that the tax would represent a 270% increase in what the township already is collecting.

Ordinarily, people look critically for signs that a taxing body is obscuring some of the less savory details about a potential tax increase. In this case, the township happily showed all of the warts and then some. Meanwhile, proponents have long indicated they could meet the township’s needs at far less than the maximum allowed.

Since then, the General Assembly has addressed the ballot-language issue, which affected many communities across the state. That action clears the way for townships to move forward without having to go to referendum again. Addison, Lisle, Naperville and Schaumburg townships, whose voters also approved mental health boards and a corresponding tax in 2022, have moved forward.

That legislation prohibits the township board from putting the matter to referendum until 2025.

This leaves proponents of the Wheeling Township tax wondering what’s really going on.

And what a tragedy for the people who need mental health help.

“You seem to be doing everything you can to obstruct the process and deny the residents of Wheeling Township mental health, substance abuse and developmental services that are shown time and time again are desperately needed,” Hugh Brady, a member of the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Northwest Suburbs Chicago, told the township board.

State Rep. Dan Didech assured Wheeling Township that it is within its rights to levy the tax.

“The General Assembly is the legislative body in the state of Illinois,” he said. “We set the rules on what referenda are valid and not valid, and we have decided that this was a valid referendum.”

All of this leaves us scratching our heads regarding what the holdup is and why ― 16 months after the votes were counted ― the township hasn’t taken any steps to address the will of the people.

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