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McHenry County Mental Health Board touts progress, reforms

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 5:05 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 11:49 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – A leaner, more accountable and more responsive McHenry County Mental Health Board introduced itself Tuesday to the County Board.

After a year of tumultuous change that critics argued was much needed and long overdue, a Mental Health Board made up of almost all new members is tackling reform and taking it in the best direction to serve the mentally disabled, Interim Executive Director Lyn Orphal told County Board members.

“[New members] are very interested in what the Mental Health Board does, they’re exceeding all expectations, asking questions, wanting to learn things, wanting to be a participant,” Orphal said.

The nine-member board is appointed by the County Board to distribute funds from a special property tax levy to agencies serving residents with mental or developmental disabilities.

The Mental Health Board plans next year to disburse the same $8.4 million to local agencies that it is distributing for the current fiscal year, despite flagging tax revenues. This year’s disbursements included $798,000 for a number of new developmental disability programs.

Board members are departing from past practice to take a more hands-on role in how county tax dollars are distributed, Mental Health Board President Connee Meschini said. The 26 agencies that have applied for 2015 funding for more than 120 different programs will make their cases in a series of August and September meetings that will be open to the public.

“This is totally different from how it’s been done in the past,” Meschini told County Board members.

Funding has been able to stay the same in significant part because the board has trimmed an administrative budget that critics labeled excessive and a case of mission overreach. It has cut its staff size to about 14, down from 34 last fiscal year, and Meschini predicts that administrative expenses by the end of 2014 will shrink from 26 percent to 18 percent.

County Board members who have wanted reform lauded the progress the Mental Health Board has made at the end of its half-hour presentation. Several agencies that receive funding later spoke in support of the Mental Health Board during public comment.

“You’re moving things in a better direction than you have in the past, and I’m thankful for that,” said board member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake.

Donna Kurtz, chairwoman of the County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee, called the changes an appreciated “huge step forward.” Her committee is in charge of recommending appointments to the Mental Health Board, as well as reviewing its annual budget.

“When we review your budget, we’re going to be looking at your approach at reducing your internal costs. We want to continue to see a thoughtful process of reducing your costs so you can increase the amount of money going out to the agencies seated here,” said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.

A search for a permanent executive director is ongoing by the Mental Health Board.

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