Our view: Filling seats on Mental Health Board

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

We are pleased to see that 15 people have applied for four open seats on the McHenry County Mental Health Board.

The positions are unpaid, but carry a significant responsibility to taxpayers and to local residents with mental health issues or developmental disabilities.

The McHenry County Board, which appoints members to the Mental Health Board, should have plenty of good options from which to choose.

The nine-member Mental Health Board decides how to spend $13 million in taxes collected annually from McHenry County property owners. Homeowners pay about 14.4 cents per $100 in assessed valuation to the board, or about $87 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.

With the state of Illinois cutting back on its funding of social services because of its dire financial outlook, and Medicaid paying a smaller percentage of the overall cost of services, it is vital that the Mental Health Board allocate its dollars to best meet the needs of the community.

The board has faced criticism in recent years for a number of its spending decisions. It recently spent about $4 million to expand its Crystal Lake headquarters, and it employs 33 people, many more than similar mental health boards across the state.

The largest mental health services provided in McHenry County, Family Service and Community Mental Health Center, closed its doors last year after the mental health board lent it hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make payroll.

The board also paid at least $30,000 in tuition and expenses for its former executive director, Sandy Lewis, to obtain her doctorate degree from the George Williams College of Education at Aurora University, according to documents obtained by the Northwest Herald under the Freedom of Information Act. Shortly after receiving her degree, Lewis left to take a job at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The County Board’s Public Health and Human Services Committee, led by Chairwoman Donna Kurtz, will vet the 15 candidates and provide recommendations to the full board by the end of February.

We encourage committee members to carefully consider the Mental Health Board’s past spending practices, and establish a vision for the future, before it makes its recommendations.

McHenry County taxpayers, and the clients in need of mental health and developmental disability services, are depending on it.

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