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Guest View: Another perspective on politics and the Mental Health Board

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Northwest Herald published a clarification regarding Dennis Smith's pension in Tuesday's edition.)

Your article, “Playing politics on Mental Health,” in Sunday’s Northwest Herald had serious mistakes regarding my pension.

The option to buy additional years that was approved by the Mental Health Board and the County Board never was exercised. There were no costs to the taxpayers. Your article said $28,686.00 of taxpayer funds was spent on this option to fund a higher pension. This is not factual. I chose not to exercise my legal option to increase my pension.

In addition to the pension mistake, you referenced a 1997 meeting where my board and I were grilled by County Board Chairwoman Dianne Klemm. The Sept. 27, 1997, article in the Herald begins “It was the McHenry County Mental Health Board’s turn under the county’s financial microscope Friday.” The main issue at the meeting was the fact that the county Board was using funds that were levied for Mental Health services. “There was a 5.4 percent cut last year, and that 5.4 percent cut is still in effect this year. We’re leaving another $368,000 in county coffers that we’re not using for mental health services,” Finance Committee Chairman Hank Fleming was quoted as saying in the Northwest Herald.

The tone of your article implies that there was something unique about agencies and departments disagreeing with the county over budgetary items. I believe every department fought hard for the mission of its respective department. This often meant disagreements over funding. The article was correct in pointing out that there was a special tension between the Mental Health Board and the county over which agency controlled the funds that were passed by taxpayers for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabled services. It was the board’s position that these funds could only be used for the above purposes and not for other county government expenses. The revised law and attorney general opinions clarified these boundaries. I am proud that I was one of the individuals that played a role in assuring the taxpayers that the funds would only be spent for the purposes outlined in the law.

The article points out the growth of funds over the years without crediting the staff of the Mental Health Board for winning millions of dollars in completive grants on a state and federal level. The McHenry County Mental Health Board was the only board to receive many of these grants in the state of Illinois. I want to thank the hard work of the staff that made it possible to provide a rich array of services without burdening the local real estate tax.

Finally, you mention a rambling report of excessive administrative expenses. This report was refuted at a public meeting. The standard for administrative expenses for agencies such as the mental health board is between 10 percent and 15 percent. Federal grants require a great deal of administrative expense. There are additional evaluation, research, accounting, reporting and data collecting expenses. Therefore, when the board has been the recipient of federal grants, the administrative expenses, although paid for by the grant have gone up. Now that the board has completed the children’s grant, their administrative expenses should go down.

Mistakes have been made, and the new board is working hard to correct them. Let’s give the new board and new executive director a chance to set a new course. Thousands of people with disabilities have been helped by the generosity of the citizens of this county by passing a referendum for mental health, substance abuse and the developmentally disabled. Let’s not lose sight of the purpose of the board: to plan, regulate, evaluate, develop resources and fund these critically needed services. They need and deserve our support.

Thank you for printing a correction concerning my pension.

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