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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Voters Approve Winnebago County Mental Health Tax

Connie Kuntz

More than 62% of Winnebago County voters in the March 17 election said "Yes" to a new half-cent sales tax that will fund mental health services throughout the county.

According to Citizens for a Healthy Community, the sales tax will bring in $12-13 million annually. Spokesman Paul Logli said, "I have been serving as a member of the mental health subcomittee -- the local Rockford Regional Health Council -- and this has been a goal of ours for years."

He expressed delight at the potential the new income will provide. "Up until now," he said, "Winnebago County has been the largest urban area in Illinois without any local source of funds to support mental health and addiction."

Logli said the sales tax will provide necessary funds to build a network of mental health providers who can address the needs of mentally ill adults and children. "It is our hope," he said, "that the mental health board, among its first priorities, will award grants to facilities or organizations that can start providing direct services to children in our community."

Children currently have no inpatient mental health treatment options in the area. "If a child in our community who is under 12 or 13 years of age is diagnosed with a serious mental illness," Logli said, "we have no beds for that child." He said in some cases the child is "loaded onto a gurney and transported to Chicago or one of the suburbs for treatment." He said the distance adds stress to an already difficult situation. The funds from the sales tax will help fund local inpatient treatment options for children and other vulnerable adults.

Logli added, "This effort has been a labor for people whose voices have been going largely unheard." He said these are the people who have lost family members or loved ones to suicide, drug overdoses, or other effects of mental illness and addiction disorders. And he said, "I think, finally, their voices have been heard."

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