Local Government

Mental Health Board to maintain local agency spending levels

The McHenry County Mental Health Board is maintaining its funding levels for its client agencies next year despite yet another decline in tax revenue.

The board predicts in its tentative 2015 budget that it will have $8.4 million to distribute to mental health agencies, which matches what it hopes to dole out this year and what it gave out in 2013, the year it underwent significant change and began slashing its budget to account for getting less in taxes.

"We're not cutting any funding, period. It's staying the same for what it was in 2014," Interim Executive Director Lyn Orphal said.

The board's draft 2015 budget anticipates collecting $10.4 million in property tax revenue next year, which is about $400,000 less than the $10.9 million it expects to collect this year. Its 2014 tax revenue plunged almost $1 million from what it collected in 2013, but it managed to boost its contributions to client agencies this year by $690,000, Orphal said.

Twenty-five local agencies receive funding from the Mental Health Board, which is tasked with distributing funds collected from a special property tax levy. Agencies' funding requests for 2015 will be reviewed by the board over five meetings through August and September.

Decreasing tax revenue has presented the board with increasing challenges. Its tax rate of 15 cents per $100 in assessed valuation is the maximum allowed under state law, meaning it cannot raise that rate like other governments have to adjust for decreasing property values. About 96 percent of the board's budget comes from its property tax levy, according to its 2013 annual report.

Critics of the board allege its fiscal problems have been exacerbated by questionable decisions over the years that have resulted in mission overreach, staff and administrative bloat, and construction of a massive expansion to its headquarters.

The board underwent almost a complete turnover last year that coincided with a shake-up of its administrative staff. The McHenry County Board committee in charge of filling the Mental Health Board's seats ended up after the 2012 election with a majority that wanted to pursue fundamental reform of its size and spending.

The Mental Health Board has since slashed the size of its staff from 34 to 19. The $1.2 million in personnel expenses it is tentatively budgeting for 2015 is half of the $2.4 million it budgeted in 2013.

The levy for helping the mentally disabled accounts for about $90 of the property tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.

If you go

The McHenry County Mental Health Board will hold five meetings over the next two months to determine how much to allocate to county social service agencies next year.

The meetings are set for Aug. 14 and 21, and Sept. 4, 10 and 18. All five take place from 4 to 8 p.m. at the board's headquarters, 620 Dakota St., Crystal Lake.

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