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McHenry Co. ballot asks for tax to aid disabled

Voters to decide April 9 on creation of ‘377 board’ to distribute funding within county

Published: Sunday, March 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

McHenry County voters will be asked April 9 to create a new taxing body to help the developmentally disabled.

The referendum, if approved, would create a developmental disabilities board, also known as a “377 board,” that would levy a property tax to disburse to social service agencies that work with people with such disabilities.

The following is a guide to why this question is on the ballot, and what will happen if voters approve it.

What does this mean?

The referendum, if approved, would create an advisory board and a corresponding property tax. Like the Mental Health Board, the McHenry County Board would be responsible for appointing members and collecting the tax for the new body to distribute. This new board would be independent of and separate from the Mental Health Board. Supporters said the board would consist of three to five people.

The name “377 board” comes from the numerical identifier of the act that created such entities – mental health boards in Illinois are commonly called “708 boards” for a similar reason.

Fourteen other Illinois counties have 377 boards.

How much will this cost me?

The proposed board is asking for 10 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, or about $60 annually, for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.

The law sets 10 cents as the maximum tax rate that such boards can collect.

Why am I being asked for a tax increase?

There are about 5,200 people in McHenry County who have a developmental disability. Only 18 percent of them, or about 995 people, receive services, according to Options and Advocacy for McHenry County, which is spearheading the referendum effort.

Social service agencies statewide cannot keep up with local need, in great part because of state government’s backlog of unpaid bills to vendors providing such services. The backlog now stands at $10 billion.

With all the ongoing questions regarding the Mental Health Board’s size and budget, what assurances do I have that a 377 board will keep it simple?

Supporters have stressed they intend to keep overhead as low as possible so tax dollars flow directly to the agencies that need them.

“We will commit these funds to services rather than overhead and buildings,” according to a statement on the website of the referendum drive, www.voteyesddb.com.

Where is the question on the ballot, and what does it say?

Referendums appear at the end of the ballot. This question reads:

“Shall McHenry County levy an annual tax not to exceed .1% 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. 1-1.01 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?”

Speaking of those unpaid bills, didn’t Springfield raise our taxes to pay them?

Yes. State lawmakers in 2011 passed the largest income tax increase in state history – 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses. Supporters sold the tax increase as a way to pay down the bill backlog, which is now worse than it was before the increase.

So where is all that new money going?

Pensions.

Almost all of the revenue generated by the 2011 tax increase has been swallowed by the state’s ballooning public pension obligations, which are underfunded by at least $96.7 billion.

Pension payments are expected to take up about 20 percent of state revenues in the 2014 budget year that starts July 1. By comparison, pensions made up just 6 percent of general fund revenue spending in 2008.

What other referendums are on the ballot?

The 377 board referendum is the only countywide question.

Voters in Marengo and Wonder Lake will be asked whether they want to participate in electrical aggregation, and McHenry High School District 156 is asking voters for permission to borrow $2.2 million for building and technology improvements.

On the Net

Visit Election Central at NWHerald.com/election to learn about the candidates and issues facing voters in the April 9 election.

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