(Chicago, IL) – December 6, 2010. As state financial support for Illinois mental health services withers, the Illinois House last week overwhelmingly approved strikingly creative legislation that would permit a referendum to create local mental health services tax districts within the City of Chicago.
Under the measure, Senate Bill 150, the Chicago Board of Elections would submit a question on the issue to voters who live within specified territories. If a majority of voters approve the referendum, then a levy would be assessed against their annual property tax bill to fund the services.
“Local residents would be able to decide if they want on-going, reliable mental health services in their community and to fund those services without relying on the budget deficit-plagued state of Illinois,” said State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who is chief sponsor of the legislation.
The referendum would ask voters whether or not they want these additional services and tells them how much they will cost, for example, a tax rate of .004, or $4 for every $1000 of taxes. The referendum would set out the ceiling of the levy and specify the territorial boundaries within which the levy will apply, according to Feigenholtz.
A nine-member commission, five appointed by the Governor and four by the Mayor of Chicago, would manage the operation of the local mental health services. Some of the appointees would be selected from lists provided by not-for-profit groups and whose terms would be evenly split between two or three year terms.
The bulk of the money generated from a local mental health district would be dedicated to services, limiting overhead costs to a bare minimum, says Feigenholtz.
“At least 85% of those funds must be used to expand mental health services,” said Feigenholtz. “Only 15% could be used for salaries, expenses, bills, and fees incurred in administering the program.”
At the end of the year, a budget and independent financial audit would be made available to the public.
The legislation, which the House approved 86-27, now moves to the Illinois Senate for consideration.
The legislature returns to Springfield at the beginning of January to consider the Feigenholtz bill and other pending items on its 2010 agenda before the new lawmakers assume office on January 12, 2011.