The McHenry County Board’s decision in November to raise the tax levy divides the five Republican candidates running for District 2.
The three incumbents – Ken Koehler, James Heisler and Donna Kurtz – voted to raise the levy to ensure the board captured the 1.5 percent increase it is entitled to under the tax cap. Their two challengers – Carolyn Schofield and Thomas Wilbeck – oppose the increase.
Five candidates are running for four seats in the March 20 primary for District 2, which covers northwest Algonquin and far northeastern Grafton townships, including parts of Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood.
All 24 seats on the County Board are up for election this year because of redistricting after the 2010 U.S. Census. District 2 gained several more precincts in northeast Grafton Township.
The three incumbents defended their tax vote, which actually was a vote against not collecting the increase. They said that rejecting the increase would have jeopardized county government’s solid financial footing in exchange property owners saving between $4 and $8 a year on their tax bills.
Koehler, who has been County Board chairman since 2004, said the small increase helps ensure a balanced budget, addresses unfunded state mandates and funding losses, and uncertainties over the costs racked up by special prosecutors in their failed investigation of State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.
“The majority of the board was in favor of taking the levy during budget discussions, and it was at the last minute that some changed their minds,” Koehler said. “Changing course the night before a vote and two weeks before the start of our fiscal year jeopardizes good fiscal planning.”
Schofield, a member of the Crystal Lake City Council, pointed out that the council decreased its levy by spending down the city reserve. She said the decision sent a message that government was serious about taking less in tough times.
“But lowering the rate for even one year acknowledged we understand people are having hard times, and just as they need to dip into personal savings the city responded by utilizing savings that have been acquired by the taxpayers,” Schofield said.
While Heisler, of Crystal Lake, supported the increase, he also cited it when asked about the County Board decision he disagreed with the most. He said he wished “in my heart” that board members would have kept the levy the same.
“With contract negotiations and the threat of arbitration putting on the pressure, and my hope of treating all employees fairly, I voted in favor of raising the levy slightly. The alternative was worse,” Heisler said.
Wilbeck, a “semiretired” financial consultant living in Lakewood, said the tax levy vote is what prompted him to run. He wants to put his experience to work to find ways to cut costs rather than raise taxes.
“While acknowledging the fiscal challenges of our county, I firmly believe – especially during a recession – that government should not be taking money out of the pockets of its citizens,” Wilbeck said.
Kurtz, of Crystal Lake, said taking the levy increase was the responsible thing to do to not only keep up with inflation, but also to keep from jeopardizing services in future years, such as transportation and water quality, that she said would affect the recovery of property values.
She touted her transparency initiatives, such as the successful effort to post meeting attendance of County Board members online.
“Just like any other employee, attendance is about accountability, and as paid public servants, we must make attendance to assigned meetings a top priority in order to keep our commitment to the public we serve,” Kurtz said.
Democratic candidates running for District 2 include Jim Roden of Lakewood and James Kennedy of Lake in the Hills.
Kennedy represented District 5 for a term – the first Democrat to get elected to the County Board in three decades – but lost his 2010 re-election bid. Redistricting puts his home in District 2.
Republican County Board member Scott Breeden of Lakewood is not running for re-election.