Disabilities ballot question seeks support for services in Kane County
Kane County voters will be asked to support a property tax increase of 0.1 percent on the March 18 primary ballot to fund services for people with developmental disabilities.
If the measure passes and the Kane County Board approves the full levy, it would increase the tax burden by about $100 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home. It would raise an estimated $13 million to be administered by a disabilities board – also known as a 377 board – for housing, transportation, jobs and job training among other services for people with disabilities.
Show You Care Kane spearheaded the petition drive a year ago after Kane County officials would not put the question on the ballot.
The Association for Individual Development, which serves more than 5,000 clients with developmental disabilities, took the lead in getting the measure on the ballot.
But 11 agencies that serve people with developmental disabilities support the effort and would share in the funding, AID board vice chairman Patrick Flaherty said.
“We are optimistic that this will pass,” Flaherty said. “We know we are on the right side of this issue, so we are optimistic about the goodwill and good hearts of the people who share our community here in Kane County.”
North Aurora resident Rae Ann McNeilly is a member of a group called Kane County Taxpayers Fight Back, which opposes the referendum.
“Primarily from the standpoint that this is money being taken by taxpayers and given to a nonprofit company,” McNeilly said. “This should be private fundraising to generate this additional revenue. This should not be a taxpayer burden, especially on property owners.”
McNeilly disputed that people who are developmentally disabled need additional support through another tax.
“You are growing government in Kane County,” McNeilly said.
McNeilly said AID itself received $16.4 million in 2013 from the state and does not need more money.
“There are people hurting all over Kane County. Is ... every one of those needs supposed to be paid through property taxes?” McNeilly said. “This [referendum] serves a very small percentage of the Kane County residents. And yet, we are willing to put people out of their homes if they can’t afford this tax increase to serve this small slice of the community.”
McNeilly said support for people with developmental disabilities should be from private fundraising, not local property taxes.
“There are way too many people put on the responsibility of the state. That is not the role of government,” McNeilly said. “And it should not be by force. This is laziness on the part of these organizations to go to the taxing authority to get their money mandated.”
McNeilly also charged that if the referendum is approved, the three-member panel appointed by the County Board chairman to administer the funds would be paid, and then add to the state’s pension debt.
Flaherty disputed McNeilly’s statements, saying all 11 nonprofits that support the referendum will still have to do fundraising to meet a growing need.
Among the local service providers are DayOne Network in Geneva, Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley Region in Elgin, Fox Valley Special Recreation Association in Aurora, Valley Sheltered Workshop in Batavia, and Marklund in Blackberry Township.
“The disabilities board is created to administer the funds, not to tax or raise more funds,” Flaherty said. “The County Board is the only one that can levy the tax ... and not more than what is approved. It can be less, but not more.”
Also, by state law, the developmental disabilities board members serve as unpaid volunteers, though they can be reimbursed for expenses, Flaherty said. Flaherty disputed that nonprofits should not receive taxes, as Illinois routinely contracts with nonprofits to provide services.
Flaherty also disputed that the developmental disabilities population in Kane County is small.
“There are thousands, up and down the valley,” Flaherty said. “The constituency is the 10,000 people who need services ... with a continuing influx yearly of people. There are 16,000 in special ed programs, and 4,000 are going to need help when they graduate.”
When developmentally disabled adults reach age 22, local schools no longer provide services for them, he said. About 1,100 Kane County residents are on a state waiting list for housing, he said.
While fundraising and donations are important to support current programs, Flaherty said donations do not provide a stable source of funding.
“The need is constant and always growing, so donations are never enough, even in the best of times,” Flaherty said. “Donations don’t allow for year-to-year budgeting and year-to-year planning, both of which are enormously important when you are trying to take care of people.”
As to AID receiving $16.4 million from state and federal funding in 2013, Flaherty said the money covers a broad spectrum of the agency’s services to people with mental illness, substance abuse and developmental disabilities, but is not enough to cover all the needs.
Flaherty said the federal and state allocations are not getting bigger while the numbers of people needing services grows every year. In the long term, supporting the referendum and creating a local, stable source of funding ultimately will cost taxpayers less, Flaherty said.
Some families don’t accept the responsibility for a family member with developmental disabilities, or because of age, illness or death are unable to continue those responsibilities, he said.
“In every one of those instances, the children become the expense of the state at higher cost – three times the cost – than at the local level,” Flaherty said.
As to increasing the property taxes, Flaherty said the amount is about $1 or $2 a week, depending on a house’s value.
“It is a modest cost to provide important work for services being received,” Flaherty said. “If not at the local level now, it will be paid for three times if provided by the state.”
Flaherty suggested those who want to save money should find a different way.
“The few vocal opponents [of the referendum] who exist would better serve the community by working to cut true waste in government rather than turning their backs on people whose only contribution to their circumstance was being born,” he said.
McNeilly said it did not matter that the amount of money being sought is small.
“They’re going to take a little more, a little more, a little more,” McNeilly said. “It will grow unto itself.”
The actual referendum question on the March 18 ballot:
Shall Kane County levy an annual tax not to exceed 0.1 percent upon the equalized assessed value of all taxable property in the county for the purposes of providing facilities or services for the benefit of its residents who are intellectually disabled or under a developmental disability and who are not eligible to participate in any program provided under Article 14 of the School Code,105 ILCS 5/14-1.01 et seq., including contracting for those facilities or services with any privately or publicly operated entity that provides those facilities or services either in or out of the county?