NW Side votes for better mental health services

Although residents on the Northwest Side say they're feeling the squeeze of a lousy economy, it didn’t stop them from raising taxes to improve mental health services for their community.

More than 22, 000 people in Albany Park, Sauganash, North Park, and other nearby neighborhoods approved a referendum calling for a tax increase to fund the North River Mental Health Center.

The increase will total $4 for every $1,000 currently paid in property taxes

Rosemary Tirio, member of Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers, says she talked to many voters on election day that thought the small increase was well worth it.

“I am very proud of my neighbors and the people that live here. They have shown they have the compassion to think of others at a time like this,” Tirio says.

The Coalition says the city has continually slashed the North River’s budget and, as a result, they can no longer provide the level of services the community needs. When it opened in 1969, North River had 16 full time therapists. They now have only three.

“I think it’s going to mean a lot more access to facilities and many more services for people here in the community,” Tirio says.

Bob Gannett, an organizer with the group, says the measure would raise approximately $500,000 dollars for the center, bringing the funding back up to the level it was at nearly forty years ago. 

The measure is an advisory referendum and must be passed by the City Council before it becomes law. It has the support of local alderman, including Alderman William Banks, D-36, who introduced a corresponding ordinance to the City Council back in July. The Coalition says they have been meeting with 10 city aldermen, all of whom wanted a confirmation from the voters on the tax increase.

Gannett says the measure needs the support of 26 aldermen and the mayor to pass through City Council. He says he is very optimistic that it will become law.

The measure won 71.06 percent of the vote, with 22,408 voters supporting the referendum, and 9,124 people voting against it.