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updated: 1/4/2013 1:09 PM

Kane County may raise taxes to help developmentally disabled

Levy would go to helping developmentally disabled

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Details aren't set, but Kane County Board members seem to be on the verge of placing a referendum on the April ballot that would create a tax to raise more than $12 million for the care of developmentally disabled residents.

As proposed, the tax would ratchet up the average tax bill on a $200,000 home by about $55 a year. The increase could be as much as $108 or as low as $38 depending on what township you live in.

Local social service agencies pitched the new tax in October. While elected officials all indicated a desire to support funding for developmentally disabled residents, the proposal puts board members in the tough political position of voting for an increase in local property taxes during a down economy. Many new board members, including Chairman Chris Lauzen, also pledged to keep the county's tax levy flat during the recent election.

The new tax would technically be separate from the county's tax levy. However, if approved, the county board would set the amount of the disability tax. The proposal seeks a tax of up to 10 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.

The more than $12 million the tax might generate would go a long way toward reducing the 1,100-person waiting list for developmental disability services. Such services, particularly long-term care, residential housing and job placement, are in high demand. Patrick Flaherty, vice chairman of the Association for Individual Development, has a son that's been on a waiting list for more than a decade.

"These are truly our most vulnerable residents," Flaherty said. "Their conditions are not the product of lifestyle choices. When they turn 21 and age out of the school system, they become the responsibility of the community.

"Many families have the ability, to some extent, to care for their children after age 18. But parents are not responsible for their children after 18 even if they are disabled. Many families don't have the ability to care for those children. And eventually most parents reach a point in life where they are no longer able to care for their disabled children even if they want to."

There are about 40,000 Kane County residents with some form of developmental disability, Flaherty said. And there is a disparity in how those residents are treated depending on where they live in the county.

Residents in the southern half of the county have the advantage of a 708 Board. The board administers about $2 million in funds collected via taxes levied by southern townships for mental heath care, substance abuse treatment and care for the developmentally disabled.

On the north end of the county, local townships have repeatedly rejected the creation of a comparable 708 Board and the accompanying taxes. The municipalities of St. Charles and Geneva have their own versions of a 708 Board.

That adds a step to the process to avoid double taxation. If the tax question is on the April ballot and voters approve it, the county would seek an agreement with the 708 Board on the south end and in St. Charles and Geneva to eliminate the benefits they offer.

That may be tricky because the law that created 708 Boards mandates they dispense money for development disabilities as well as mental health and substance abuse.

Advocates of the tax also face the question of why not just create a 708 Board on the north end of the county. Lynn O'Shea of AID said the problem with that plan is persuading the eight townships in the northern portion of the county to agree to the plan. Some have rejected such an idea in the past.

In addition, each township would have to propose and pass its own tax referendum proposal to provide the funding for a new 708 Board. Even if that is successful, the money collected by those townships wouldn't be exclusive to developmentally disabled residents. Because of that, it wouldn't be enough money to address the waiting list.

"If you think a 708 Board is a solution, you're wrong," O'Shea said. "The money would be nothing compared to a countywide tax. It's like comparing an elephant to a mouse."

The county board is slated to vote on the potential tax increase Jan. 15.

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