Six years in, the Bloomington-Normal area’s mental health and public safety initiative is making a difference, but there’s still a long road ahead, say leaders of the effort.
During the Normal Town Council’s meeting Monday night, McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre and County Administrator Cassy Taylor shared an annual update on the long-term plan, and how the fund’s revenue is spent, and partly set aside, to meet the initiative’s goals.
Key successes of the public-supported effort that uses sales tax revenue include renovating the McLean County Jail and improving access to mental health services there, said McIntyre. The fund also has expanded the community’s behavioral health services and programs, especially with the opening of a walk-in triage clinic, he noted.
In addition, the initiative integrates an overhaul of the area’s electronic integrated justice system (EIJS) used by public service agencies.
The intergovernmental agreement among Normal, Bloomington, and McLean County was adopted in spring 2016. It expires in 2036. All three entities agreed to increase sales tax by 1% to fund the the plan.
The county’s Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC) works on the area of mental health.
“More was needed,” though, to help the community address gaps in mental health treatment, said McIntyre, and the tax increase allowed that with creation of the Mental Health Action Plan.
The BHCC oversees this project. Improving jail facilities, and finding more help for adolescents and youth with mental health issues are among its top goals. The plan also calls for better collaboration among social service agencies, more access to psychiatric assistance, and efforts to remove the stigma of mental illness, said McIntyre.
On Monday, Taylor said the BHCC is expected to adopt an updated version of the plan Friday. She shared details about several programs in progress including one to reduce time homeless people with mental issues spend in hospital emergency rooms and in 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 slowed its launch. In its second year, during 2021 the center serve about 300 people. She said this year’s first quarter is seeing even higher usage. People in mental crises can see counselors in the center, and stay up to 23 hours there.
The Mental Health Action Plan provided some start-up funding for the Regional Office of Education’s Bridge Academy program. That assists students who can’t participate in school because of increased hospitalization risk associated with mental health issues. At this time about 45 McLean County adolescents are part of Bridge Academy.
More than $23 million tax revenue collected
Through the end of 2021, the fund’s 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.
The spending’s been divided equally among four key areas — integrated case management, behavioral health services, building debt service, and criminal justice services.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, City Manager Pam Reece and several other council members initially had concerns about the large amount in reserve. But Taylor and McIntyre explained how the money will go toward the EIJS system, and that the new electronic management system is expected to cost between $30 and $35 million.
“There are some very large expenses on the horizon,” such as the EIJS update that explain the reserves, said Reece. She noted the Normal Police Department will be one of the agencies benefiting.
Koos thanked the pair for an informative session on a very complicated issue.
Several council members lamented that after five years, an adolescent mental health treatment center hasn’t been realized. That’s also among goals for the initiative.
In other business, the council approved two intergovernmental agreements with McLean County for animal warden services, and animal shelter services.
The five-year renewal agreements, for McLean County Animal Control services, total about $400,000.
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