WOODSTOCK – If the federal budget showdown has you down, rest easy that a county one has been averted.
The McHenry County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday consented to recommending approval of the Mental Health Board's budget for the 2014 fiscal year. A slim majority of the committee in August voted against approving the budget, which could have caused problems for county government adopting its own, but changed course after the Mental Health Board pledged to continue with cost-cutting measures.
One of the few statutory powers that county government has over a mental health board, besides appointing its members, is signing off on its total appropriation, which the board can spend as it sees fit.
The Mental Health Board in August presented a slimmer budget in the wake of shrinking revenues. It slightly raised the amount it disburses to county agencies that work with the mentally ill and disabled, while slashing its administrative budget and shrinking from 33 to 19 full-time equivalents.
But a slim 3-2 majority on the public health committee did not think the budget was austere enough, and voted against it. The unprecedented move – no one on county staff could recall the last time a County Board committee rejected an entity's budget during the county budget development process – came after an acrimonious meeting that veered from a budget review to ongoing criticisms of the agency.
The Mental Health Board has faced mounting criticism over the years that it is a top-heavy agency that spends too much on administration and overhead. Assurances of continued austerity have come from new members who have pledged fiscal reform – six of the board's eight current members have been appointed this year.
The County Board will put its 2014 budget on 30-day review at its meeting next Tuesday evening, and will vote to approve it Nov. 19. The fiscal year for both county government and the Mental Health Board starts Dec. 1.