Daily Herald, 10/25/22

An economical response to an urgent problem – Mental health boards provide locally managed means to address a multifaceted scourge

Voters in communities in four collar counties are being asked this fall to support a funding mechanism that can address one of the most daunting issues afflicting our society today.

We hope they say yes to the opportunity to make a significant impact at a minimal cost.

Mental health problems are exacting heavy tolls on individual lives and on our communities in numerous ways — substance abuse, suicide, mental illness, development illness and crime, especially mass shootings and gun crimes.

Unfortunately, state and federal resources are not remotely keeping up. The Community Mental Health Boards sought on ballots in Addison, Lisle, Naperville, Schaumburg, Wheeling, Winfield and Vernon townships and Will County can help close the gap — and through a process that ensures local control both over determining funding levels and over deciding the priorities in a specific community for allocating the money.

Community Mental Health Boards — also known as 708 boards, after the legislation that created them — are local panels made up of volunteers appointed by township supervisors or county leaders who identify the most critical needs in their area and provide grants to local agencies committed to addressing them.

State law limits the tax rate for such boards to a maximum of 0.15% of a property’s value, though the average rate among the 80 boards already operating today in Illinois is much lower than even that small figure. The actual rate will vary from community to community — one of the merits of a system built on local control — but the group promoting Wheeling Township’s measure expects the cost for a typical property owner there to be in the range of $30 a year — “about the cost of a large pizza,” says supporter Arlen Gould. If the measure passes, proponents in the township intend to seek about $1.5 million, representing about one-sixth of the maximum property tax rate at just 0.026%. That is less than three one-hundredths of one percent.

Yet, such modest funding levels can support significant mental health resources.

“I think the word has gotten out that (the 708 board) is a very inexpensive way to get great things done,” Geri Kerger, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness DuPage, told our Steve Zalusky for a story last August in reference to such projects already operating in collar county communities.

As an indicator of the urgency of the need, Gould, points to studies that have ranked Illinois 35th among all states in providing mental health care and 43rd in services for the developmentally disabled.

Gould also bristles at a political opposition group’s recent mailing that lists a host of distortions and inaccuracies attempting to portray the boards as expensive additional units of Illinois government. They are neither.

Indeed, at a time when opioid addiction is raging, teen suicide is a growing crisis and mass shootings are so common that the one thing gun control advocates and opponents agree on is the need for greater mental health care, they are a valuable, economical and locally responsive mechanism for individuals and communities in need of every bit of help they can get.