BY ROBERT MCCOPPIN CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Some suburban voters in Tuesday’s election will be asked if they want to pay for better mental health services in their communities.
Addison, Naperville, Lisle and Winfield townships in DuPage County; Schaumburg and Wheeling townships in Cook County; Vernon Township in Lake County; and all of Will County will hold referendums on whether to establish property tax levies to fund services for mental health, developmental disabilities and addiction.
It’s a question that Lorri Grainawi, a League of Women Voters of Illinois mental health specialist, has taken personally since the death of her 24-year-old son, Adam, in 2016, when he was struck by a train.
Adam battled schizophrenia for years. He had no case manager or social worker to help him follow his recovery plan. His mother believes his death was accidental but might have been prevented with follow-up services. She knows other families that went through similar tragedies, and some that got more help and are doing well.
A community mental health board, like those proposed by petition in Tuesday’s election, would provide grants to local agencies to provide such potentially lifesaving services. Some 90 existing mental health boards in Illinois pay for things like drop-in crisis centers, screening youths for mental illness, and social workers who help police departments deal with people in mental crisis.
“By doing it locally,” Grainawai said, “you’re able to serve more local needs.”
Opponents counter that numerous agencies already spend millions of dollars providing such services. Federal Medicaid and Medicare, county health departments and the Illinois Department of Human Services provide mental health services.
Dan Patlak, president of the Republicans of Wheeling Township and former township assessor, said suburbanites pay too much in property taxes. Local governments in Illinois had the second-highest property tax rate among all states, according to WalletHub.
Similar to some other townships, Wheeling Township already gives about $575,000 in grants to social service agencies, much of it for behavioral and mental health and intellectual disabilities, Patlak said.
“A lot of people including myself are sympathetic to the idea that mental health problems are serious and need to be addressed,” Patlak said. “Better to reallocate money that’s already out there, than to tax people further and hurt their ability to support their families, and for businesses to stay and employ people.”
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