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Officials share expectations of General Assembly

WOODSTOCK – No furniture was broken, punches thrown or authorities called when McHenry County Board members and state Rep. Jack Franks were in the same room Thursday.

The County Board committee in charge of its dealings with state and federal lawmakers met with many of its representatives in Springfield to share what it would like to see done by the General Assembly.

And Franks, D-Marengo, whom many on the Republican-dominated board see as a busybody interfering in county business, had some ideas about what he would like to see the County Board do.

The two-hour meeting to share the county’s legislative priorities also was a meet-and-greet for two very changed groups. More than one-third of the County Board is new, as is the county’s representation in Springfield and Washington because of post-census redistricting.

Accepting the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee’s invite were former County Board member and new state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake; former Kane County Board chairwoman turned state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St.Charles; veteran Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry; and Franks. Veteran Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, and freshman David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, had prior commitments.

County Board members have wanted to sit down with Franks for a while, especially in the wake of his efforts to force the board to make its chairmanship popularly elected. That effort culminated in November in a referendum to change to a county executive form of government. Voters defeated the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin.

Franks seized on one of the board’s priorities to support legislation promoting fairness and equity in the property-tax system. He said he intends to refile his bill from the last General Assembly that would forbid taxing bodies from collecting their annual levy increase for inflation if their overall assessed value decreased. The idea passed the House but was not called for a vote in the Senate. If the board supports tax fairness, he said, members should support his bill and prevent its lobbying group, Metro Counties of Illinois, from working to defeat it as it did last time. The county pays $8,600 a year in dues to the group. The county does not employ its own Springfield lobbyist.

“Last time, McHenry County led the charge against this bill, and even paid lobbyists to oppose it. I believe you should support the bill this time,” Franks said.

Legislators agreed with the County Board’s support of legislation forbidding people from holding more than one elected office simultaneously. More than 90 percent of voters supported such a ban in a November advisory referendum.

But the state lawmakers had mixed opinions on a request by the McHenry County and Lake County boards to allow the Fox Waterway Agency to charge a public safety fee of up to $30 a year to defray the cost of policing the Chain O’ Lakes and the Fox River in the wake of state funding cuts to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said about 40 percent of the river’s total recreation comes from outside the two counties whose taxes pay for existing safety. Lawlor said Lake County had to pick up extra night patrols because the light bar broke on one of the state’s patrol boats and funding isn’t available to replace it.

Although Althoff, who had served as the waterway agency’s director, supports the idea, Wheeler and Franks were less enthusiastic. Wheeler pointed out that the state just raised the cost of license plates by $2 a year to support the IDNR.

Franks chided the County Board on its decision last week not to put a referendum on the April ballot allowing voters to elect the board chairman instead of being chosen by the board’s 24 members. Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said a committee Monday will discuss moving forward with a referendum in 2014.

Redistricting changed the face of McHenry County’s representation at the state and federal levels.

Democrats took advantage of their control of both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office to approve redistricting maps after the 2010 U.S. Census for state and congressional districts without the need for Republican votes. The Democratic Party in the Nov. 6 election secured veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate, and took four U.S. House seats from Republican incumbents. The county under the new maps is divided among five state representatives and three state senators.

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