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Committee agrees to approve Mental Health Board budget

CRYSTAL LAKE – A McHenry County Board committee will agree to approve the Mental Health Board's 2014 budget after members pledged to continue pursuing cost-cutting measures.

The Public Health and Human Services Committee, which last month voted against approving the Mental Health Board's budget, will change course after a Tuesday sit-down with its finance committee.

Public health Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said her committee wanted assurances that budget cutting would continue, and they got it Tuesday evening. The committee will vote to approve the budget at a later meeting.

"[They] strongly reiterated what they have said in the past – they believe that administrative costs absolutely have to be reduced," They were very, very convicted on that particular issue, which was very huge with us," Kurtz said.

In an unprecedented move last month, Kurtz's committee rejected on a 3-2 vote the Mental Health Board's 2014 budget, despite the fact that it is significantly slimmer. Faced with shrinking revenues, the board is cutting its administrative costs and slashing its workforce by almost half, from 33 to 19 full-time equivalents.

The Mental Health Board for years has been accused by critics of becoming a top-heavy agency that spends too much of its revenue on administration and overhead that should be going to the 25 agencies that receive funding from its dedicated property-tax levy.

New President Robert Routzahn, who is also a finance committee member, said he got the impression that the public health committee needed to hear a continued dedication to cutting costs beyond the next fiscal year.

"We're committed to making sure the organization is the right size to fulfill the mission we need to execute," Routzahn said.

Besides cutting administrative costs, the proposed Mental Health Board budget increases the amount being distributed to local mental-health agencies from $8.4 million to $8.7 million. The Mental Health Board is projected to receive $1.2 million less in property tax revenue next year than it did two years ago.

"I think we're all on the same page as far as lowering those administrative costs so there's more money to be distributed," said public health committee member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills. Yensen holds the County Board's voting seat on the Mental Health Board.

The Mental Health Board has a large degree of fiscal autonomy under state law. While it has control over how it spends the local, state and federal revenues it receives, the County Board must sign off on its total appropriation. The County Board is also in charge of appointments to the Mental Health Board's nine seats.

The County Board will put its 2014 budget on 30-day review at its Oct. 15 meeting, with ratification to follow Nov. 19. County government's fiscal year starts Dec. 1.

The Mental Health Board has undergone significant change over the past year. It has lost seven members since last September, mostly to resignations. It also has been functioning since last year with an interim executive director after the departure of its top official and the retirements of her two top deputies.

Routzahn said the board hopes to have a permanent replacement hired in November.

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