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McHenry County 2013 budget enters 
final stretch

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board is on track to put its 2013 budget on public display next month, most likely without the levy increase it is entitled to under the tax cap.

But some board members have questioned potential spending increases and an average 2.5 percent merit-based wage increase for nonunion staff that a majority approved in July.

County staff gave the board an update Tuesday morning on development of next year’s budget. County Administrator Peter Austin said board members would get a copy of next year’s spending plan at its Oct. 16 meeting. He also estimated that a list of supplemental expenses – just under $500,000 left over to fund other needs – could go before the board in two weeks.

“We’re hopeful we’ll have this largely concluded by the end of this month,” Austin told board members.

The estimated increase of just less than $1 million in next year’s general fund spending, primarily for salaries, had some members saying the county, despite having a balanced budget and a Aaa bond rating, needs to make cuts.

Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said county government needs to seriously examine “reducing boots on the ground for every organization under county government.”

“It’s frightening if we don’t make some tough decisions,” Kurtz said.

County Board members – all of whom are up for re-election in November because of post-census redistricting – have told county staff they intend to keep the levy flat for 2012 taxes payable next year. But a provision in the county’s budget policy allows them to capture part of the tax cap increase should the county’s finances take a turn for the worse, such as a cash-strapped state government paying shared revenues late or deciding to keep more for itself.

The board this year overhauled the way it puts together the budget after a last-minute legislative fiasco in November while it prepared the 2012 budget. Board members tried to amend the budget on the night of the vote, two weeks before the start of the budget year, to eliminate the levy increase. Members had instructed county staff at an earlier budget workshop to keep it.

The tax cap was meant to protect taxpayers by limiting property tax increases to the rate of inflation.

But when home values decline – a possibility never considered by state lawmakers – the cap hurts taxpayers and protects local governments by guaranteeing they get the minimum inflationary increase.

Finance and Audit Committee Chairman Scott Breeden, R-Lakewood, encouraged members to ask questions and air concerns now rather than later. It was Breeden who asked for the task force that revamped the budget process.

“My concern is we don’t come down to the last moment and have questions and concerns unanswered by the board,” Breeden said.

The board will approve the 2013 budget in November. The fiscal year for county governments begins Dec. 1.

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