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Elected officials pen letter opposing Thornton Township mental health referendum

A group of 14 elected officials who serve residents in Thornton Township have voiced their opposition to the referendum on Tuesday’s ballot to approve a tax hike to create a 708 board for mental health services.

Two of three residents addressed the referendum at the March 12 Thornton Township board meeting. One spoke in opposition and one in support.

A 708 board would oversee the disbursement of funds from an additional 0.15% property tax that would cost an owner $43.86 yearly for a house with a market value of $100,000.

The letter from elected officials, initiated by Homewood Trustee Jay Heiferman, is an updated version of a letter issued prior to the March 2023 election, the first time the referendum question was before voters.

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“Thornton Township families already pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. It is vital not to add to this burden — especially when there is no need,” the letter stated. “A number of highly professional organizations … are already providing very effective services to our area.”

The letter also cites another reason for the officials’ opposition, the cloud of corruption allegations hanging over Thornton Township’s governing board.

“We also believe — given recent news media and law enforcement inquiries regarding possible misappropriation of taxpayer dollars — that to request more of township taxpayers’ hard-earned money is at best, ill-advised,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld, state Sen. Napoleon Harris II, Cook County Commissioner Monica Gordon, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry, Markham Mayor Roger Agpawa, South Holland Mayor Don DeGraff, East Hazel Crest Mayor Thomas Brown, Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark, Glenwood Mayor Ronald Gardiner, Lansing Mayor Patricia Eidam, Calumet City Mayor and state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, Riverdale Mayor Lawrence Jackson and Phoenix Mayor Terry Wells.

A 15th official also expressed opposition.

On March 12, Village of Thornton Acting Mayor Joseph Pisarzewski posted a letter to Thornton residents on the village Facebook page expressing his opposition to the referendum.

“I … encourage the people of Thornton Township to vote no on the proposed property tax increase referendum,” he said. He indicated he would have signed on to the letter from other elected officials in the township but had not gotten word about it because of email problems.

At the township board meeting, Curtis Watts of South Holland, who said he was a former township employee, spoke about his disappointment with what he termed the mismanagement of the government.

“I am embarrassed of this administration on how this city, this township, your city of Dolton, has gotten unwanted attention with your managing of Dolton, your management of this township,” he said, referring to township supervisor Tiffany Henyard, who also serves as mayor of Dolton.

He predicted township voters would not approve the referendum.

Michael Smith from Riverdale spoke in favor of the referendum. He said local governments routinely raise taxes.

“If you stop by police officers today in the street, nine times out of 10 they’re gonna tell you they’re dealing with people that have mental issues,” he said. “We got to do something about this. And if the township wants to step up and do something, then we ought to support them.”

Henyard made a statement at the end of the meeting criticizing those who oppose her.

“I’m basically fighting against the devil, the evil spirits. I’m the good spirit,” she said. “No one’s showing you fact. They keep telling you fiction. Fake story. Fake news. This is why we’re trying to educate the public. Go and research things before you all start believing the hype.”

Henyard did not provide specific information about programs the 708 board would support. However, an information sheet mailed to township residents several weeks ago noted that new programs “would focus on mental health issues affecting one in five adults, youth experiencing seriously debilitating mental illness and suicide awareness and prevention among at-risk youth and seniors.”

The fate of the mental health board referendum will be determined by voters on Election Day, Tuesday, March 19. In Homewood, voters who live north of 183rd Street and east of Western Avenue will be able to vote on the question.

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