When the North Riverside trustees voted a year ago to join the West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA), they did so believing the village would have to foot the entire bill for its membership.

But a portion of the village’s 2019 membership in WSSRA, which provides recreation programs for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, will be picked up by the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission, whose board voted to approve awarding the village $15,000 for it.

“They put a proposal together and it looked like something that will really help the population we serve,” said Jesse Rosas, executive director of the Proviso Township Mental Health Board in a phone interview.

The Proviso Township Mental Health Commission provides financial assistance in the form of annual grants to agencies which provide services “in the areas of mental health, developmental disabilities, substance use disorder and medical services as they relate to behavioral health,” according to its website.

The amount of money being earmarked for North Riverside’s membership in WSSRA is based on the number of people who live within the Proviso Township portion of the village. About one-third of North Riverside – from 9th Avenue to 19th Avenue – falls within the township’s boundaries.

In 2019, the village’s membership fee to belong to WSSRA will be $52,000, so Proviso Township’s grant will cover a little less than one-third of the cost.

According to the terms of the village’s five-year membership agreement, North Riverside’s contribution gradually increases so that it will begin paying its full membership amount of roughly $70,000 in 2020.

Rosas said that it awards grants to agencies on a year by year basis, so if North Riverside desires mental health commission funding in future years, it will actively need to seek the money from the commission on an annual basis.

“Every year our agencies have to reapply and demonstrate the numbers that they serve,” Rosas said. “That’s how we can make adjustments to payments.”

Rosas indicated that the mental health commission approved a letter of intent for funding WSSRA funding for North Riverside last month. The village still needs to complete a full application, which the board will consider before the year ends.

“Once the village completes that, we’ll review it again” to ensure what’s being proposed for funding falls within the mental health commission’s mandate, Rosas said.

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. thanked the mental health commission and Proviso Township Supervisor Michael Corrigan for being open to the village’s request and its argument that North Riverside taxpayers in Proviso Township already pay taxes to the mental health commission to support programs for the mentally and physically disabled and that funding through the township was appropriate.

Hermanek and Riverside Village President Ben Sells earlier this year had tried to make the same argument to the Riverside Township Mental Health Board and Riverside Township Board of Trustees, asking them to support both villages’ membership in WSSRA on an ongoing basis.

However, the Riverside Township board resisted the request, though Riverside Township Supervisor Vera Wilt and mental health board President Tim Heilenbach (who is also a township trustee) said they’d be open to considering grant requests on a case-by-case basis. Heilenbach also had said the Riverside Township Mental Health Board’s attorney advised that funding Riverside’s WSSRA membership was not possible due to laws governing suburban mental health boards.

Sells disputed that argument and said last week that the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission’s action on North Riverside proved him right.

“This comports with the village’s view that the mental health board and township are not legally constrained from contributing to WSSRA if they wanted to,” Sells said.

The village of Riverside in July approved joining WSSRA and decided to fund membership by levying a special recreation tax to fund the first year’s membership cost of about $40,000. After three years, Riverside will be paying nearly $80,000 for membership in WSSRA.