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Tax for county's disabled to go on ballot in April

WOODSTOCK – A proposed “377 Board” that would disburse taxes to agencies working with the developmentally and intellectually disabled now rests in the hands of McHenry County voters.

The April 9 ballot will include a referendum asking voters to approve establishing the board and create a tax levy that would add 10 cents per $100 assessed valuation to county property taxpayers’ bills. That rate would mean an increase of about $60 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.

County Board members approved placing the referendum on the ballot, 20-3. Ersel Schuster, Diane Evertsen and John Hammerand voted no. Board member Robert Bless was absent.

Cheers and applause erupted in the County Board room after the vote was announced. More than 40 supporters of the new tax levy had taken seats in the room, a few of them in wheelchairs.

About 20 spoke passionately about the need for services for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities during public comment. The state, they said, cannot be counted on to pay its bills to agencies such as Options and Advocacy for McHenry County.

And when people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and autism exceed age 22, services provided through public school districts cease.

Johnsburg resident Kim Noxon spoke. With Noxon was her 16-year-old son, Parker Helbig, who has cerebral palsy.

“I’m a single parent,” Noxon said, adding that she is studying to gain a job in the special needs services field. “When he hits 22, there are no services to care for him. I can’t leave him alone, and I can’t work.”

Cindy Sullivan, executive director of Options and Advocacy, said thousands of people in the county have developmental disabilities, and only about 1,200 have services. “Give us the chance to prove that McHenry County cares,” she told the board.

Not everyone spoke in favor of the referendum. Michael Rein, a former county board candidate from Woodstock, said he believed taxes already are burdensome, that a clear plan for how new money would be spent was lacking, and that money already allocated to the McHenry County Mental Health Board should be better managed.

Perhaps the most scene-stealing speaker was 33-year-old Travis Hafford of Crystal Lake. Hafford has Asperger’s syndrome, works as a peer mentor at Options and Advocacy, and delivered a rapid-fire, passionate speech that left some in the room wondering whether he’d taken a breath during his allotted two minutes.

“I know a 377 Board will help bring in funds that will help me and people like me to achieve dreams and aspirations,” he said. “Without such a board, where will people with developmental disabilities wind up?”

Board member Nick Provenzano at one point suggested postponing the vote until board members had a better idea of how a new 377 board would operate. But retiring longtime board member Virginia Peschke of the Public Health and Human Services Committee made clear she believed Tuesday was the night to vote.

“We know all we need to know, frankly, tonight,” she said. “If it’s approved [by voters], we’ll name a board and those people will establish bylaws … I think we all ought to vote for this tonight and hopefully it will pass and do a service for all of these wonderful people in our community who deserve our support.”

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