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Mental health referendum question to appear on ballots in Thornton Township

Reposted with permission from the Lansing Journal

The Thornton Township Board voted Jan. 10 to approve a referendum for placement on ballots in the April 4 election, putting the decision to establish a mental health board in the hands of Thornton Township residents. Trustee Gerald Jones was absent for the vote, but the remaining trustees voted in favor.

Voters in Homewood north of 183rd Street and east of Western Avenue are in Thornton Township and will see the issue on their ballots.

Establishing a mental health board in Thornton Township
The proposed text for the referendum reads:

“Shall Thornton Township levy an annual tax not to exceed 0.15% for the purpose of providing community mental health facilities and services for the person with a developmental disability or a substance abuse disorder, which levy will have a single additional tax of a maximum of .15% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein extended for such purposes?”

Jerry Weems, who serves as the director of the township’s Youth and Family Services, explained what would take place if the referendum is approved.

First, a 708 mental health board will be formed, consisting of seven to nine community members appointed by the township supervisor. 708 boards are named after Illinois House Bill 708, passed in 1963, known as the Illinois Community Mental Health Act.

708 boards are mental health boards established by a community, municipality or township for the purpose of planning and funding mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services.

According to the Illinois Community Mental Health Act (405 ILCS 20), “Members of the community mental health board shall be residents of the government unit and, as nearly as possible, be representative of interested groups of the community such as local health departments, medical societies, local comprehensive health planning agencies, hospital boards, lay associations concerned with mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse, as well as the general public.”

Only one person on the 708 board can belong to the governing body of Thornton Township, such as the supervisor or a board member.

Aurora, Batavia, Big Rock, Blackberry, Sugar Grove and Virgil Townships are other Illinois townships that have established 708 mental health boards.

Once appointed, the board will be responsible for conducting a study of the township to see what resources are most needed related to mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. After the study, the 708 board prepares and presents a budget to the township for approval.

Upon approval of the budget, grant applications are opened to community organizations and businesses, who are invited to apply for funds, with the final decision of grant recipients left to the 708 mental health board.

“These are opportunities for us to bring additional dollars to support individuals that live within the township that could utilize additional services,” said Dr. Weems.

Tax implications
Director of Finance Robert Hunt shared how passing this referendum would affect taxes.

For a home assessed at $100,000, yearly taxes would increase by $45, which comes to $3.75 a month, Hunt said.

Keith Freeman, senior advisor to Supervisor Tiffany Henyard, said, “We want to know from a township level how we can help support other outside agencies in managing those things,” referring to services that could be funded by the 708 board.

“Do not suffer in silence. I cannot stress that enough,” Henyard said.

It is not clear how much money the 708 board would collect in taxes for distribution among organizations within Thornton Township.

Discouraging advocacy
Township attorney Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski reminded the public that Thornton Township is nonpartisan on the matter.

“This board is not advocating for or against the question. We’re simply trying to educate the voters on what the facts are as it relates to this question,” she said.

The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21. Meetings are held at 6 p.m. at Thornton Township Hall, 333 East 162nd Street, South Holland.

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