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Local mayors recommend ‘no’ vote on Thornton Township mental health referendum

By Josh Bootsma, with Quinton Arthur

LANSING, Ill. (March 20, 2023) – As Early Voting opened Monday, Thornton Township residents began to cast their ballots on a referendum question that could see the Township collect hundreds of thousands of tax dollars every year to fund mental health-related services.

The referendum prompted local legislators and mayors to circulate a letter last week recommending that local residents vote “no” to the question.

What is the referendum question?

The referendum reads as follows:

“Shall Thornton Township levy an annual tax not to exceed 0.15% for purposes of providing community mental health facilities and services, including facilities and services for the person with a developmental disability or substance use disorder, which levy will have a single additional tax of a maximum of 0.15% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein extended for such purposes?”

When the referendum was approved at the January 10 Township Board meeting, Thornton Township Executive Director of Transitional Operations and Director of Youth and Family Services Dr. Jerry Weems explained that if the referendum passed, a 708 mental health board would be formed, consisting of seven to nine community members appointed by Township Supervisor Tiffany Henyard.

708 boards are named after Illinois House Bill 708, passed in 1963, known as the Illinois Community Mental Health Act. 708 boards are mental health boards established by a community, municipality, or township for the purpose of planning and funding mental health services.

Aurora, Batavia, Big Rock, Blackberry, Sugar Grove, and Virgil are among other Illinois townships that have established 708 mental health boards.

After approving a budget, the 708 board would open grant applications to community organizations and businesses, and would grant money for mental health services. The referendum question emphasizes services focused on developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders.

In an email to The Lansing Journal, Weems said funds would only benefit residents of Thornton Township.

Tax implications

A graph provided by Thornton Township says a home valued at $200,000 would see a tax increase of $90 per year if the referendum was passed. The graph is included below:

Graph provided by Thornton Township.

Local leaders oppose referendum

After the Township Board voted to approve the referendum, former Township staffer Stephanie Wiedeman said she began calling local mayors to make them aware.

“It started as a concern. It was a question to the mayors — ‘Are you guys aware that this is being put on the ballot?’” Wiedeman said.

That concern turned into a “Letter of Nonsupport” that was signed by 11 of Thornton Township’s 17 municipalities, and began circulating on Friday, March 17, ahead of the April 4 election.

The letter says, in part, “In our opinion, the method to pay for [increased mental health services] is not to impose additional taxes on the south suburban communities, because we as a region are significantly overtaxed already. This region has some of the highest real estate property taxes in the country. It is vital not to add to that, especially when there are a number of existing services that are effectively serving, and more County, State, and Federal sources that are being contemplated to fund these services.”

The letter was signed by the following legislators:

  • Napoleon B. Harris III, Illinois State Senator, 15th District
  • Donna Miller, Cook County Board Commissioner, 6th District

It was also signed by the following local mayors:

  • Richard A. Hofeld, Homewood
  • Robert R. Kolosh, Thornton
  • Patricia L. Eidam, Lansing
  • Lawrence L. Jackson, Riverdale
  • Vernard Alsberry Jr., Hazel Crest
  • Thaddeus M. Jones, Calumet City
  • Roger A. Agpawa, Markham
  • Don A. De Graff, South Holland
  • Christopher J. Clark, Harvey
  • Thomas A. Brown, East Hazel Crest
  • Ronald J. Gardiner, Glenwood

The letter was not signed by the remaining mayors in Thornton Township:

  • Robert E. Polk, Burnham
  • Terry R. Wells, Phoenix
  • Fitzgerald Roberts, Dixmoor
  • Fred Bilotto, Blue Island
  • Frank Podbielniak, Posen
  • Tiffany A. Henyard, Dolton

The full letter can be viewed here.

Mayor Eidam

mental health
Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam (left) talks with Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore at the groundbreaking of Torrence Place in October of 2021. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam said she signed the letter, in part, because of the Township’s lack of communication with local municipalities.

“Like many other elected officials in Thornton Township, I was not informed of this proposed referendum until it was established and on the ballot,” she told The Lansing Journal.

Eidam cited her position as secretary of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, and said she’s aware of the mental health needs of south suburban communities. She also referenced Torrence Place, a new development on the northwest corner of Thornton Lansing Road and Torrence Avenue. The residential portion of the facility will provide affordable housing to veterans and people with disabilities, she said.

A Christian Community Health Center will also be opening soon on the site, which Eidam said is a “3000 square-foot foot health clinic that will include mental health services for all area residents.”

She said the development was “no additional tax burden to Lansing residents.”

project
Christian Community Health Center will open its new medical office in the Torrence Place building. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma, 2022)

“Many Lansing residents are struggling now to make ends meet. Recently, most Thornton Township residents saw an increase on the second installment of their property taxes. Considering the rising costs of food and other everyday necessities, an additional property tax could be a real hardship on many Lansing residents,” Eidam said.

Mental health angles

Wiedeman, who lives in Thornton Township said, “In Cook County specifically, we’re already tied down with so many taxes. To add another tax to us, it just seems like a very unfair angle to take for the residents, when there may be other ways to do this that won’t hit the pocketbooks of the residents.”

Former Township staffer Stephanie Wiedeman speaks during the public comment section of a Thornton Township Board meeting in September of 2022. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Wiedeman also claims Thornton Township has terminated at least two counselors in its counseling department in the last year, and called into question why the Township would choose to set up a 708 board for mental health services while not choosing to strengthen its existing free counseling services for residents.

Township response

mental health
Dr. Jerry Weems (right), pictured in 2018 with American diversity educator Jane Elliott. (Photo provided)

In a comment to The Lansing Journal, Dr. Weems said, “In our committed effort to be mindful of neutrality and not attempt to sway voters one way or the other on the matter, I can say that the Township was extremely disappointed by the lack of support from our municipal leaders on this very crucial referendum question.”

Acknowledging the fact that a tax increase would be a financial burden to residents, Weems said the cost of crime and hospital visits resulting from a lack of mental health services could prove more costly.

“There are significant financial and, more importantly, real life and death costs associated with these and other issues that quite frankly, we are not sure that our local leaders have taken into consideration,” he said.

Weems also shared a variety of mental health statistics, including: “Mental Health Issues affect approximately 1 in 4 adults in a given year. Of those with some form of mental illness, 1 in 17 will live with a serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder.”

Issue for the voters

Ultimately, the voters of the largest township in Illinois will determine whether it will establish a mental health board through a tax increase. Election Day is April 4, and early voting has already started.

Thornton Township is located at 333 E. 162nd Street in South Holland.

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Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.

2 COMMENTS

  1. If you look at the gross amount of negligent spending since last March when Henyard was appointed Supervisor in a Sham Meeting orchestrated on the day after Frank Zuccarrelli died you will see that this money will be spent frivolously ! Tens of thousands of dollars on high end meals , fancy trips , illegally purchased SUV’s , An Inauguration Party without an election , hiring unqualified employees , retaliatory firings , party planners making over $120,000 , Henyard tshirts and hoodies for her Non Profit paid for by the Twp to the tune os $20,000 , $100,000 paid by the TWP for a trip to Springfield promoting Henyards Non Profit ( illegal ) , YES $100,000 of TWP Tax Dollars ! Give this corrupt Administration no more money ! VOTE NO

  2. Thank you Mr. Giglio. This is the worst example of township government. There were questions about Henyard before she was elected yet the people voted for her.
    There is nothing more gratifying to me than when citizens take an active role in fairly questioning their government.
    You are to be commended as well as the other township residents who have spoken publicly on this issue.

Comments are closed.