Ordinary City Council hears updates on the community’s tax-based mental health action plan
Six years later, the Mental Health and Public Safety Initiative is making a difference in the Bloomington Normal area, but there’s still a long way to go, leaders of the effort say.
During Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, McLean County Chief Executive John McIntyre and District Administrator Cassy Taylor shared an annual update of the long-term plan and how the fund’s income will be spent and partially deferred to meet the initiative’s goals.
Key achievements of publicly supported efforts using sales tax revenues include renovating the McLean County Jail and improving access to mental health services there, McIntyre said. The fund has also expanded the community’s behavioral health services and programs, most notably with the opening of a walk-in triage clinic, he noted.
In addition, the initiative integrates an overhaul of the region’s Electronic Integrated Justice System (EIJS) used by public bodies.
The interstate agreement between Normal, Bloomington and McLean County was passed in Spring 2016. It expires in 2036. All three companies have agreed to increase sales tax by 1% to fund the plan.
The county’s Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC) works in the area of mental health.
“However, more was needed” to help the community fill gaps in mental health care, McIntyre said, and the tax increase made that possible with the creation of the Mental Health Action Plan.
The BHCC oversees this project. Key goals include improving prison facilities and finding more help for youth and youth with mental health problems. The plan also calls for better collaboration between social services, greater access to mental health care and efforts to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, McIntyre said.
On Monday, Taylor said the BHCC is expected to adopt an updated version of the plan on Friday. She shared details of several ongoing programs, including one to reduce the time homeless people with mental health issues spend in hospital emergency rooms and the criminal justice system.
Currently, the Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE) program is working with about a dozen homeless people in McLean County, she said.
Taylor said the triage center opened in spring 2020 but the pandemic has slowed its launch. In its second year, in 2021, the center will serve about 300 people. She said the first quarter of this year saw even higher usage. People in mental crises can get advice at the center and stay there for up to 23 hours.
The Mental Health Action Plan provided some seed funding for the Regional Office of Education’s Bridge Academy program. This helps students who are unable to attend school due to an increased risk of hospitalization related to mental health issues. Currently, approximately 45 McLean County youth are part of Bridge Academy.
Raised more than $23 million in tax revenue
By the end of 2021, the fund generated about $23.3 million in tax revenue, Taylor said. Of that, about $9.5 million has been spent and about $14 million remains in reserve, she said.
Spending was divided equally between four key areas – integrated case management, behavioral health services, mortgage service and criminal justice services.
Ordinary Mayor Chris Koos, City Manager Pam Reece and several other council members were initially concerned about the large reserve amount. But Taylor and McIntyre explained how the money will be used for the EIJS system and that the new electronic management system is expected to cost between $30 million and $35 million.
“There’s some very big releases on the horizon,” like the EIJS update explaining the reserves, Reece said. She noted that the regular police department will be one of the agencies that will benefit.
Koos thanked the couple for an informative session on a very complicated subject.
Several council members complained that after five years no mental health treatment center for adolescents had been realized. This is also one of the aims of the initiative.
In other matters, the council approved two interstate agreements with McLean County for animal care services and animal shelter services.
The five-year renewal agreements for McLean County Animal Control services total approximately $400,000.