Voters approve higher sales tax to fund McHenry County Mental Health Board. How it passed and what’s next.

Donna Rasmussen talks with other veterans on about voting on raising the sales tax to fund mental health on Friday, March 8, 2024, at the Other Side in Crystal Lake, during a meeting of area veterans.

McHenry County voters have approved a new 0.25% local sales tax meant for mental health services in the county, according to unofficial election results.

Officials estimate that the tax would bring in about $13 million of revenue annually. The sales tax is intended to replace the property tax levy that now funds the county Mental Health Board, which currently is about $11 million.

How did it pass?

Last fall, how – and how much – to fund the Mental Health Board was a large sticking point in budget discussions for the McHenry County Board. The Mental Health Board originally asked for a $2.5 million increase in its portion of county property tax levy, and social service providers spoke out about the importance of funding mental health.

Ultimately, the Mental Health Board got about $525,000 more in funding in the fiscal 2024 budget, and the County Board voted in December to place the sales tax on the March 19 primary election ballot.

Some of those providers were active in mobilizing public support for the sales tax. Abbey Nicholas, executive director of NAMI McHenry County, said Wednesday that she thought the referendum passed because of people understanding the importance of mental health. She said the result was a “big win” for the agencies in the county and stressed it was the work of many people.

“It really was a grassroots, team effort,” Nicholas said.

Suzanne Hoban of Family Health Partnership echoed the “team effort” sentiment. Hoban urged county leaders to increase support for mental health services last fall and said the referendum result means “we’ll be a lot closer” to meeting the need for services.

“This is going to be great for the community,” Hoban said.

Jeff Thorsen, chair of the McHenry County Republican Party, said he thought the effort was successful because it’s hard to say “no” to mental health, and the vote was a “positive” for mental health in the county.

He said the Republican Party bought some green “Vote Yes” signs that were placed around the county leading up to Tuesday’s referendum.

Thorsen also noted the bipartisan nature of the referendum, with McHenry County Board members of both parties voting to place it on this ballot.

“It’s interesting to see a Republican-paid-for sign in a Democrat’s yard,” Thorsen said.

McHenry County Democratic Party County Chair Ruth Scifo said she thought the generosity of county voters was a big factor in the referendum’s passage.

She added that increasing mental health funding aligns with Democrats’ beliefs, but that the referendum is nonpartisan.

Scifo said the Mental Health Board and the agencies it funds affects many residents’ lives.

“They understand firsthand the value that the board adds to our community,” Scifo said.

About 53% of voters leading up to Tuesday’s primary supported the sales tax measure, compared with about 47% who voted no, in still unofficial results.

What happens to the sales tax rate?

Most merchandise in McHenry County, starting July 1, will be subject to an additional 0.25% sales tax that will go to the Mental Health Board to fund services. Most communities in the county have a 7% sales tax, which will increase to 7.25%.

Some towns, such as Woodstock, have an 8% sales tax, which will go up to 8.25%. For every $100 someone spends in McHenry County, they will pay 25 cents in sales tax that will go toward the services.

However, some merchandise in the county, such as groceries and medicine, are exempt from this sales tax. In exchange, county leaders have promised that they will decrease the property tax levy by almost $11 million.

What happens to the Mental Health Board’s current funding?

McHenry County officials have vowed to reduce the property tax levy that is earmarked for the Mental Health Board if the sales tax passes.

The county’s fiscal year begins Dec. 1, and leaders have pledged to reduce the levy in this year’s vote. Although there is nothing technically binding them to do so, Thorsen said he trusts the current County Board to follow through.

“We have to have faith in our board,” Thorsen said.

McHenry County Board Chair Mike Buehler reiterated Wednesday that the levy line item for the Mental Health Board will be set to zero in next year’s levy. He said he is “happy” with the result.

Buehler said he “couldn’t ask for a better outcome.”