Voters in McHenry County Board District 6 might want to take a scorecard into the voting booth.
Eight candidates – the most in recent memory for a County Board race in a November election – are running for the rural, agricultural district that covers western McHenry County. Four Republicans, three Democrats and – in another rare twist for a board race, an Independent candidate – are running for four open seats.
Republican candidates include incumbents Ersel Schuster, Diane Evertsen and Mary McCann, and newcomer Michele Aavang. Democratic challengers include Scott Summers, Jay Kadakia and Ryan Heuser. Larry Smith is running as the Independent.
All 24 seats on the County Board are up for grabs Nov. 6 because of post-census redistricting. District 6, which covers all or parts of 11 townships, did not change under the new map.
Seven of the eight candidates discussed the issues with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board and responded to candidate questionnaires. Repeated attempts to reach Heuser were not successful.
The County Board budget up for review freezes its property tax levy for next year’s bills, spurning a 3 percent increase it is entitled to under the tax cap. Most of the candidates pledged, if elected, to work to repeat the freeze for 2014’s tax bills. The newspaper asked the question of all County Board candidates to gauge candidates’ willingness to hold the line on taxes in a year in which they were not up for election.
“High unemployment/underemployment rates combined with incredibly high gasoline prices and the increase in grocery prices make it unthinkable to burden the taxpayers with higher taxes of any kind,” said Evertsen, a retired business administrator from Harvard.
Schuster, of Woodstock, prides herself on being a “thorn in the side” when necessary in questioning the need for county programs and spending. Besides supporting future levy freezes, the county must go further in cutting spending, said Schuster, who owns a printing business.
“We now have a pretty clear picture of mandated county services and those we provide for one reason or another. In this coming year, County Board members must make difficult decisions by eliminating those services that are unnecessary and/or can more efficiently and effectively be provided by the business community,” Schuster said.
Kadakia, a former Huntley village trustee, said his position on the levy next year will depend on the state of the economy and inflation.
The district’s rural, agrarian nature makes protecting and preserving it a top priority for many of the candidates.
McCann, owner of McCann’s Berry Farm in rural Woodstock, is currently the sole board member with a career connected to agriculture, and is chairwoman of the board’s Natural and Environmental Resources Committee. Aavang, a Woodstock farmer, is president of the McHenry County Farm Bureau Board. Kadakia, a retired environmental engineer, cited groundwater preservation and sustainability as one of the main reasons he is running.
“The county has experienced unprecedented growth in the last 10 years. Since the existing aquifer has a limited capacity lasting a decade or two, it is incumbent upon the new board to educate and inform the public in conserving water by more limited water usage,” Kadakia said.
Six of the eight candidates are self-employed or business owners. They had varying opinions regarding how friendly county government is to businesses in unincorporated areas.
Aavang, who raises all-natural beef on a fifth-generation farm, was among those who said existing county ordinances are not business-friendly and impede the starting of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones. She said she hopes the unified development ordinance under review – which will overhaul the county’s development and zoning rules – will move the county in the right direction.
“We need to remove illogical restrictions and regulations that make it hard to start or grow a business,” Aavang said.
Most of the candidates oppose the referendum on the ballot asking voters whether they want to change county government to an executive form. Under that form, voters elect an executive to handle the day-to-day operations of county government. An executive has wide-ranging powers under Illinois law, including veto power over board legislation and the power to draft the county budget.
McCann said that a county executive would disenfranchise District 6 voters because it would be the heavily populated areas that would elect the position. Three-fourths of the county’s unincorporated land is in the rural district.
“Looking long term, and recognizing the resources District 6 has, an elected executive will not likely be sympathetic to the unique resources and valuable rural character of the county,” McCann said.
Smith and Summers said they favor a referendum allowing the voters to directly elect the board chairman, while Evertsen said the constituents she has talked to favor the current system in which the board’s 24 members elect the chairman after the November election. Schuster, who has fought for term limits on the chairmanship as chairwoman of the Management Services Committee, said she will continue to do so. Kadakia said the system works fine now, but that the executive form might end up working sometime in the future.
The candidates for the most part opposed the fact that the county’s Springfield lobbying group, paid for by taxpayer dollars, fought to stop a bill that would forbid governments under the tax cap from collecting more in property taxes in years when their total assessed values decrease.
Summers, a self-employed attorney and author from Harvard, said the county’s lobbying group is not acting in the public’s interest, also pointing out Northwest Herald stories exposing the fact that county governments have been lobbying to scale back the state’s open records and open meetings laws. He said that the board should either require its lobbyists to cease such activities or drop its memberships.
“McHenry County has memberships in a number of organizations which, on their faces, purport to advance the collective interests of the citizens of Illinois’ larger counties. It is highly troubling to me that some do not,” Summers said.
Evertsen and Smith said county government should not pay for lobbyists at all. Smith, a retired business owner from Harvard, called lobbying against the bill in question “counterproductive and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“Considering the dismal housing market and struggling economy, for the County Board to spend money to undermine our protection from increases in taxes is inappropriate, and not in the best interests of the taxpayers of McHenry County,” Smith said.
Aavang called lobbying against taxpayer relief “unethical.” Schuster opposed the move, but supports the county having a lobbyist to track the thousands of bills that go through Springfield which directly affect the county. McCann likewise supports having a lobbyist, but did not weigh in on the tax cap bill. Kadakia on principle opposes lobbying against tax relief, but added that any such bill must include a plan to recoup lost revenue.
Republican board member Randy Donley, of Union, is not seeking re-election.
On the Net
Visit Election Central at NWHerald.com/election to learn more about the races, candidates and issues in the Nov. 6 election.
McHenry County Board districts have changed slightly because of post-census redistricting. Visit http://shawurl.com/4q2 to see the new district boundary maps.
Visit the McHenry County Clerk’s website at www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/countyclerk to view sample ballots, lists of candidates and polling places.