377 board to benefit people with developmental disabilities goes to voters

Geneva Willoughby (left) of Woodstock and Heidi Huber of Woodstock screw tops on to bottles Tuesday while working at the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry.
Geneva Willoughby (left) of Woodstock and Heidi Huber of Woodstock screw tops on to bottles Tuesday while working at the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry.

Respite care, residential facilities or day programs for people with developmental disabilities are possibilities if a local 377 board is approved, proponents say.

McHenry County would join 14 Illinois counties that have a 377 board to benefit people with developmental disabilities if voters approve a referendum on the April 9 election ballot.

It will ask whether the county should establish a 377 board and create a tax levy that would add 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to county property taxpayers’ bills. That rate would mean an increase of about $60 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.

The county already has a 708 board – the Mental Health Board – which disperses property tax money to help people with mental illness, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.

Patrick Maynard, president and CEO of Pioneer Center for Human Services, said mental illness can be treated and possibly cured, whereas a developmental disability is something a person is born with and has to live with throughout life.

He said the 708 board uses 80 percent to 85 percent
of its resources for services for people with mental health issues.

There are about 5,200 people in McHenry County who have developmental disability. About 650 of them receive services.

“You’ve got thousands of people that have no tax support locally,” Maynard said. The 377 board would focus on those developmentally disabled people and not duplicate services, he said.

McHenry County’s referendum question comes amid a movement in the state to try to consolidate boards and units of government. The Local Government Consolidation Commission is developing a report on consolidation in the 7,000 units of governments in the state.

“I understand and respect that position, but to me, as a society, we’re supposed to help people who can’t help themselves,” said Cindy Sullivan, executive director of Options and Advocacy in Crystal Lake.

There is no model for how these types of boards can run. They have local control, which allows board members to respond to what they see as a need in the community, said Phyllis Russell, the executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Authority of Illinois.

“They have a lot flexibility, but not a lot of money,” Russell said.

Maynard said Ohio requires every county to have separate boards that levy taxes for mental health services and developmental disabilities.

In the 1990s, there was a movement to make sure people with developmental disabilities are as independent as possible, while still being able to stay close to family support.

Services of a new board could include teaching someone life skills to live on their own, having providers occasionally check in on people in need, or providing 24-hour care. However, some of these options can be expensive.

Money also could be used to transition developmentally disabled people from the public school system into the adult world after they turn 22 years old, Maynard said.

“A case can be made if you combine federal and state resources, and look at the ability of a family to assume the cost, you will find there are gaps,” Russell said. “Gaps that are so expensive, they cannot manage.”

“Does the state have an investment in facilities? Yes it does,” Russell said. “Is that adequate? Probably not.”

Sullivan herself has an adult daughter with developmental disabilities. She pointed out that the state is behind six months or more in payments to providers. “The issue is the state is a mess and it’s not going to get any better for people with developmental disabilities,” she said.

Sullivan said a 377 board can help pay for residential programs, respite programs or day programs.

Sullivan said she tries not to think about the cost of taking care of her daughter. “I try to meet all her needs and not worry about it. I’m lucky to have a job and a good support system, but what happens when I pass away?” she said.

Sullivan is part of the county’s Task Force on Developmental Disabilities, which pushed to put the referendum on the ballot. The group is made up of families of people with disabilities and some local service providers.

Sullivan said that if the board is created, the aim would be to have as little overhead as possible so that the greatest percentage of dollars goes toward helping people with developmental disabilities.

If passed, the board can bring in between $9 million to $10 million a year.

“I like to think we could do a lot with that,” Sullivan said. “We can be frugal and conservative and look to get the most bang for our buck and be responsive for those who have the needs. We don’t want or need a big administration.”

Fast facts

There are about 5,200 people in McHenry County who have developmental disability. About 650 of them receive services.

• 89 people live in group homes

• 419 people need group homes

• 113 families receive respite care

• 724 families need respite

• 76 people currently are at an emergency level need of services

• 642 people will need supports within a year

• 409 people will need services if something happens to their caregiver

• 258 caregivers need increased support

Counties with 377 Boards: Adams, Bureau, Champaign, Clay, Hamilton, Hancock, Iroquois, Livingston, McLean, Peoria, Pulaski, Saline, Tazewell and Woodford

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