Bloomingdale Township moving to form mental health board

Updated 5/15/2017 8:28 PM

A referendum Bloomingdale Township officials described before the April election as advisory now requires the township to raise property taxes to fund a new mental health board.

Voters approved a ballot question that makes the township establish a board devoted to improving the availability and quality of services for township residents with mental illness, addiction, and developmental disabilities.

Ed Levato was township supervisor when the referendum was placed on the ballot after a successful petition drive organized by a group of residents. He said Monday that township staff members were simply misinformed when they told a Daily Herald reporter before the election that the ballot question was advisory.

"They were not given any information about it," he said. "It wasn't our referendum. It was a citizens' initiative."

Levato apologized for the miscommunication. He said he personally didn't support the measure.

"It's a huge tax increase," Levato said.

According to preliminary estimates, owners of homes valued at $240,000 would pay about $56 a year in property taxes to support the mental health board. The tax is expected to be collected for the first time next year.

However, Michael Murray, chairman of the committee that backed the referendum, said their campaign made it clear to residents that some type of tax increase would be necessary to fund the mental health board.

The panel will use the money to award grants to agencies that provide detection, early diagnosis, education, assistance and treatment programs.

"It doesn't duplicate any services," Murray said. "It only works to bring in existing services and to strengthen those services in the community by providing grants."

But before the mental health board can begin its work, it needs members. Under state law, the township supervisor has until June 3 to appoint those volunteers.

Michael Hovde, the new supervisor of Bloomingdale Township, said he plans to have a seven-member board appointed by that date. If the mental health board requests additional members, two more individuals can be appointed, Hovde said.

Hovde said he wants to have board members who represent a cross-section of the community.

Once the board is established, it will have "a lot of work to do," Murray said.

The panel will need to do a "needs assessment" so it can draft its proposed budget. The spending plan must be submitted to the township by Sept. 1.

Murray said it's believed the mental health board will need a budget of about $2.3 million to $2.5 million to meet the needs of the community. But the actual budget won't be known until the needs assessment is completed.

"It's very critical to make sure that it is an appropriate amount -- not too little or too much," he said.

Murray said taxpayer money will be spent wisely to help the developmentally disabled, mentally ill, and those with addiction problems.

Work on the mental health board idea started about four years ago. It included a study that the League of Woman Voters Roselle/Bloomingdale completed in May 2015.

The goal of a mental health board, according to the study, is to develop a comprehensive local plan to ensure that "preventive and therapeutic programs are accessible for all residents in the community."

Other mental health boards exist in the suburbs, including one in Hanover Township.

"We looked at what other communities like Hanover Township have accomplished," Murray said. "We wanted that for our community."

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