McLean County Board candidates representing Normal address housing, mental health

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BLOOMINGTON — Tackling mental health and providing affordable housing options were among the priorities identified by candidates vying for McLean County Board seats in the three districts that encompass a majority of the town of Normal.

Solutions proposed by the candidates have ranged from stronger fiscal planning to additional collaboration between local governing bodies. Voters now have less than a week to decide which candidate is most in touch with the needs of Normal.

The fourth district, which covers the west side of Normal, has four candidates: Republicans Jerry Klinker and Steve Harsh and Democrats Krystle Able and incumbent Jim Rogal.

Klinkner said the biggest issue facing McLean County residents is the controversial SAFE-T Act, which was passed in 2021 with some elements going into effect Jan. 1.

One of the most polarizing pieces of the new law is the elimination of cash bail. Instead, local circuit judges must consider whether an individual is a flight risk or a danger to the community when determining pretrial detainment for anyone charged with a forcible felony that is not eligible for probation.

“I would address this problem by fully supporting the sheriff’s department and voting to provide that department with the necessary personnel and equipment to protect our citizens,” Klinkner said.

He added that the county lacks clear support for its sheriff’s department, and although there are some on the county board that want to reduce their budget, he would work with board Republicans to support the department.

Harsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rogal, who serves on the land use and transportation committee as well as the property committee, said McLean County is seeing a lot of the same issues that are occurring nationwide, such as a need for affordable housing and access to mental health services.

Part of the the county’s issue has to do with its planning process, he added.

“For too long, the county board goes from fiscal year to fiscal year without a clear plan for the county,” Rogal said. “We react to new businesses wanting to come here, we react to staffing issues (and) we react to long-term construction and infrastructure needs.”

Although emergency funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Rebuild Illinois program have led to the advancement of long-overdue projects, Rogal said the county needs to embrace technology and green energy and create a human resources office so there can be a long-term plan moving forward.

Able said the county must make it a priority to invest in health care and housing, noting about 10.7% of the county’s population currently lives in poverty.

At the county level, Able said she would make sure the board utilizes programs that would help to expand housing in a responsible and affordable way such as advocating for infill developments rather than expansion.

“In addition to housing, McLean County is lacking mental health professionals,” Able said. “The recent McLean County Community Needs Assessment for 2020-2022 indicated a high level need in our community for access to care, behavioral health including mental health and substance abuse, and healthy eating/active living.”

In August, the county board rejected the appointment of Able to fill the remainder of the term of Matt Coates, who resigned from the county board to serve on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. Opponents were critical of her stances on law enforcement.

In response, Able had said she will advocate for all first responders to have the funding and tools necessary to do their job and respond to emergencies in the community efficiently and safely.

Both board members representing McLean County’s fifth district, which covers most of the eastern side of Normal, are seeking re-election and face a challenge from GOP candidate Hannah Blumenshine.

McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre said the county’s issues always have to do with keeping taxes in line and having a balanced budget.

“It’s my goal, I think, as chairman always to see that we’ve kept a pretty steady tax rate for the people,” McIntyre said.

By working together, McIntyre said the board has been able to draft and revise a mental health initiative and action plan. It took another step forward in its fight for mental health by dedicating 35% of its cannabis tax revenue to support community-based behavioral health services.

“I think I bring not only experience to the board that is needed, because there is so much to do and learn for new people on the board,” the Republican chairman said. “I think I bring that (and) I think I also bring the experience that I’ve had knowing county board has been successful over the years by working together and trying to work on issues that affect all people.”

Incumbent Democratic board member Elizabeth Johnston said a lack of housing is the most pressing need facing the community. And because of an unbalanced state of supply and demand, assessments have to accommodate higher market trends, which can affect homeowners’ property tax bills.

“The housing need also directly impacts our employee pool,” Johnston said. “Insufficient housing is likely a deterrent for potential applicants considering a move to our community (and) living in hotels for months on end is not ideal or desirable.”

Immediate and long-term solutions to addressing these issues at the county level could be to facilitate collaborative efforts of our local governing bodies to support a range of housing development options, continue investment into renewable resources and support local manufacturing, she added.

Blumenshine could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the sixth district, which includes Illinois State University, two students are vying for a spot on the board alongside incumbent Democratic board member Beverly Bell.

Although housing is an issue, Bell said there is a need to protect the county’s farmland in the future and not necessarily engage in urban sprawl.

However, she added there should be more mixed-use development on the outskirts of subdivisions. By having small- or medium-sized apartments near the county’s single-family housing, it could give lower income residents the incentive to own their own house down the road.

McLean County also could do a better job of maintaining its nearly 2,000 miles of roads, especially heading into the Rivian Automotive plant, Bell said.

“I would like to see us do more construction and repairs in the evening hours,” she said.

ISU students Eduardo Monk, who is running as a Republican, and Jack Henry Abraham, who is running as a Democrat, both could not be reached for comment.

Voting

Early voting still is available at the McLean County Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., for voters that live outside of Bloomington. It is open for early voting between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 4.

Bloomington voters can cast their ballots at the Bloomington Election Commission office, 121 N. Main St. from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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November 1, 2022 at 07:19PM

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