Bloomingdale Township's mental health panel blasted over funding request

Some residents and mental health advocates are blasting Bloomingdale Township's new mental health board for proposing a smaller-than-expected budget in its first year of operation.

Critics say the proposed $650,000 budget is too small to effectively meet the mental health needs of the community and pushed the panel to approve an initial budget of nearly $1.2 million.

The seven-person panel, formed after voters approved its creation in an April referendum question, will work to improve availability and quality of services for township residents with mental illness, addiction and developmental disabilities.

But critics say the board shortchanged itself Wednesday when it voted 4-2 to ask the township to raise $650,000 in additional property taxes to fund its first budget.

The request is just a portion of what could be levied for the spending plan, which takes effect April 1, 2018.

A group doing a community needs assessment advised the panel to seek nearly $1.2 million.

"I am appalled by the action of this board," Roselle resident Lizbeth Fitzgerald said. "You are making personal decisions and not upholding your duty on this board to give a budget that will give the services this community has voted for and asked for. You should be ashamed."

Angela Adkins, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of DuPage County, urged the board to seek more funding.

"I'm astonished that you're talking these kind of low numbers," Adkins said. "They're not going to make that much of a difference."

A budget recommendation had to be made now because township trustees will vote in November to adopt the mental health board's property tax levy. Township trustees will get the final say on the levy amount and could decide to increase or reduce the $650,000 request.

On Wednesday, mental health board members Diana Eckert and Edward Levato opposed the request for different reasons.

Levato, the former township supervisor, pushed for a lower request of either $400,000 or $500,000.

He said the program should "start small." He and other board members also said they don't want to dramatically increase property taxes.

"All we are is a recommending body to the (township) board of trustees," Levato said. "We have to be able to present them with something they are going to accept and will vote for."

Eckert said she believes the request is "way too low." She said the board needs enough funding to help township residents who are unable to help themselves.

"The need is here and now," she said. "The voters have already spoken by passing a referendum. They are relying on us and the township board to help our residents."

The budget proposal supported by the board's "needs assessment committee" called for $1.19 million in funding. Expenses in that plan included $200,000 for mental health providers; $200,000 for senior day care, domestic violence and homelessness programs; $200,000 to help those with developmental disabilities; and $100,000 for addiction and rehabilitation programs. It also would have provided $150,000 to hire two social workers to assist police departments in the township.

"I feel this is the bare minimum," Eckert said. "Anything else would be an insult to the taxpayers who approved the referendum."

But Levato said Bloomingdale Township already has a mental health program for youths.

He proposed a $400,000 spending plan that would include $77,000 for youth services and $313,700 for grants.

"There's already programs out there that work," said Levato. He said the board should offer grants to organizations that provide services in the township.

The board settled on the $650,000 amount after hearing both sides.

"I think we need to pay for services," board member Kim Cline said. "We need to pay for training. We need to pay for things that are going to have an immediate effect on families, on kids."

Still, Diana Hoke, president of the League of Women Voters of Roselle/Bloomingdale, blasted the panel for disregarding the recommendation of the needs assessment committee.

"You're supposed to be meeting the needs of the population - not playing political gamesmanship," Hoke said. "I have never seen such cowardice of late. And I think you blew a big opportunity."

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