MCHENRY COUNTY, IL — A referendum appearing on voters ballots this primary election in McHenry County could change the funding source for the county’s Mental Health Board and lower residents’ property tax levy.

The primary election is on March 19 and early voting is currently underway across the Chicago area. While there are not many contested races in McHenry County, voters will be asked to vote yes or no on the Mental Health Board tax.

Here’s how it will appear on McHenry County voters’ ballots:

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To pay for mental health purposes, shall McHenry County be authorized to impose an increase on its share of local sales taxes by one-quarter (1/4) percent and discontinue the current property tax levy funding mental health services and the Mental Health Board?

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If voters approve the measure, the Mental Health Board will no longer be funded by a property tax levy. That levy most recently totaled $10.975 million.

If the referendum is approved, the levy would be nixed on Nov. 30.

And the new sales tax would begin on July 1, according to county officials.The change would mean shoppers in McHenry County would pay an additional 25 cents in sales tax for every $100 spent at retail stores.

McHenry County anticipates that the first full year’s collection of sales taxes for the Mental Health Board will be between $12 and $13 million. And, historically, sales tax collections have grown over time, according to McHenry County officials.

One other county, Winnebago County, funds its mental health services through a sales tax.

If the referendum fails, the Mental Health Board will continue to receive funding from property taxes as it has in the past.

The mental health board was established 1967 through a referendum vote to levy an annual tax for the purpose of “providing community mental health facilities and services.”

The mental health board distributes levied funds through a yearly application process to organizations that treat and educate county residents affected by mental illness, substance abuse, and other populations in need of behavioral health care.

Among the McHenry County’s Mental Health Board’s service providers are: Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, CASA of McHenry Count and Child Advocacy Center of McHenry County.

Suzanne Hoban, executive director for Family Health Partnership Clinic, says being able to provide funding through a sales tax, instead of the property tax levy, will mean “organizations being able to somewhat keep pace with the increased demand in services.”

“With more than 12 years of no increase in the mental health levy, we have fallen behind what our community needs,” Hoban said.

“This is why the board of Family Health Partnership Clinic voted to support the change in the mental health board funding mechanism.”

Local service providers are faced with a “mental health crisis”as more services are needed and waitlists to provide those services have grown long, according to a community contribution appearing on Patch this past February.

This crisis, said Abbey Nicholas, executive director for NAMI, is getting worse each year, according to the article.

“Additional funding would allow organizations to provide more services and shorten the waitlists. It will not solve the crisis, but it will help a lot of people in McHenry County,” Nicholas said. “The NAMI McHenry County Board of Directors voted to support the referendum because we must do something to alleviate the crisis.”

Those opposed to the referendum claim the change in the levy does not mean property taxes will go down. And that sales tax, which fluctuates with the economy, could lead to a decease in funding for mental health services.

The change comes in the same year the county board approved a measure to increase the gasoline sales tax by 3.3 cents.

“We’ve already had one new sales tax this year … We don’t need another tax,” Mary T. McCann of Woodstock wrote in a Daily Herald letter to the editor.

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