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Former St. Charles mayor champions disabled tax for Kane

Published: Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 12:00 a.m. CDT

The oldest daughter of former St. Charles Mayor Fred Norris, Lynda Lee Norris, 53, lives in a group home for developmentally disabled adults and has a part-time job with Portillo's in Batavia.

Fred Norris, 77, St. Charles' mayor from 1977 to 1997, is on the Community Leadership Team of Show You Care Kane, pushing voter support for a referendum on the March 18 primary ballot that seeks a 0.1 percent property tax levy increase. Show You Care Kane's successful petition drive, in which the group collected 34,260 signatures, put the question on the ballot.

The money would pay for services for people like Lynda, who have developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism or intellectual disability, defined as those with an IQ of less than 70.

The money raised, about $12 million, would be administered by a Developmental Disabilities Services Board appointed by the County Board. The board would use the funds to provide housing, job coaching, therapy, transportation and other services for more than 1,300 other Kane County residents who are developmentally disabled and on a waiting list for services.   

"This is strictly a local situation," Fred Norris said. "The need is profound – how important it is to help people with developmental disabilities find proper housing and activities. With a little bit of aid, we can make them citizens of our community."

Lynda became a client of the Association for Individual Development in 2004, Norris said, after the death of her mother.

"She worked in the catering department at Arthur Andersen for years," Norris said. "She always had an activity and spending money. She was productive. Then Andersen imploded, and they did not have a position for her. Then her mother passed away. I went to AID to ask for activities for her."

AID, which formed Show You Care Kane to advocate for the referendum, provided a sheltered workshop for Lynda in Aurora. Then she went on a waiting list for housing, eventually getting a spot at a group home for four in St. Charles Township.

AID operates 35 group homes throughout its service area including the one where Lynda lives, Norris said. In addition to Kane, the service area covers DuPage, Kendall, suburban Cook and Will counties. The 50-year-old agency offers 20 programs to serve 5,000 clients in 45 communities, according to its website.

"As I get older, somebody has to be there to take care of her," Norris said. "This is giving me a degree of comfort that she is in a secure facility, has a sense of purpose and quality of life. That is why I think this [referendum] is a very important endeavor. There are a lot of other people on the waiting list who need help, too."

• • •

Chuck Miles of Geneva is chairman of the board of directors of AID. His developmentally disabled daughter, Emma, will turn 22 on March 3. At that point, Emma will "age out" of school-based program run by Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative.

"She's on a waiting list," Miles said. "There are 22,000 people with developmental disabilities in the state waiting for services. Because there's nothing once you're 22. We're trying to find out what we do now."

Miles said the family has been diligent in trying to see whether there are opportunities to keep Emma engaged in the community and maintain the skills she developed working with therapists over the years.

"We're trying to find something that is a good fit for her, a real paid job or volunteer," Miles said. "It's important that she stay active in the community."

Miles said if the referendum is approved, and if county officials levy to the full amount allowed, it would bring an estimated 200 more jobs to Kane County, such as additional therapists and construction trades rehabbing houses for more group homes.

"Once people begin to understand the magnitude of the need and the relatively small cost of this ... " Miles said. "The additional tax on a $300,000 home would be less than $100. This is a local election where residents have an opportunity to make such a huge difference in the lives of so many in Kane County."

• • •

But there is opposition. Allen Skillicorn, an East Dundee trustee and anti-tax activist, filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections against Show You Care Kane, alleging violations.

Andy Nauman, deputy director of campaign disclosure for the board of elections, said a closed-door preliminary hearing was to be held Thursday on the complaint. 

"I cannot go into details because it is closed," Nauman said. 

A hearing officer will make a recommendation as to whether Skillicorn's complaint was justifiably filed, whether there should be a public hearing or if corrective action will resolve the issue, Nauman said.

"Whatever the hearing officer writes up, the board decides the next step," Nauman said.

The state already cited AID for being late with quarterly reports of donations and expenditures. The agency won an appeal of the $2,150 fine and did not have to pay it, a state hearing officer said.

"They have quite a track record," Skillicorn said. "There are eight specific violations, most with finances."

Lynn O'Shea, AID executive director, said none of Skillicorn's allegations have merit.

"Anyone can make accusations – there is nothing we can do about it ," O'Shea said. "None of the allegations have any merit. That is our position."

Another wrinkle for the disabilities referendum is the County Board itself. 

The enabling legislation gives the County Board the power to levy to the maximum – 0.1 percent – but the county board can levy less than that.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen would not say whether he would support a lower levy if the voters approve the referendum.

"In just my personal opinion, the first issue is will this pass or not," Lauzen said. "There are few people who are insensitive to the enormous needs our neighbors with developmental disabilities suffer. However, I am also sensitive to people … who tell me they are being taxed out of their homes."

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