Chairwoman outlines priorities for ‘new era in McHenry County’

WOODSTOCK – The new McHenry County Board chairwoman called for an era of new ideas and progress while remaining fiscally prudent.

Chairwoman Tina Hill, elected by board members in December, made the call Tuesday during the State of the County address that the board chairman is required to give each February. The address over the past eight years had been given by former Chairman Ken Koehler, whom board members denied a fifth two-year term.

Hill, R-Woodstock, listed priorities that have to be done and things she wants done in 2013. She predicted progress would be slow but sure.

“We are entering into a new era in McHenry County – an era of fresh ideas to bring about meaningful change to our organization and for the residents we serve,” Hill said. “This meaningful change, however, is a large undertaking and cannot be done overnight, and it is a large undertaking.”

Hill prioritized county finances, development and transportation.

She began by praising ­Koehler for his contributions to the county’s stable finances, including a balanced budget and a Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service. By contrast, Hill’s speech came the day before Gov. Pat Quinn’s annual State of the State address.

State government is bleeding red ink and is fresh off its latest downgrade to the worst credit rating of all 50 states.

Hill called on county departments and staff to be thoughtful again this year about balancing the county’s financial strength with the expectations of taxpayers. The County Board decided not to take the 3 percent increase allowed under the tax cap for inflation on this year’s property-tax bills.

She also said she would like to repeat the budget task force created last year at the behest of former board member Scott Breeden to make sure the budget is done on time and addresses all concerns earlier rather than later. Breeden pushed for the task force out of frustration over a last-minute attempt the night of the 2012 budget vote to reject collecting the levy increase, which would have forced an overhaul of the county’s $250 million-plus budget.

With more than one-third of the County Board made up of new members after the November redistricting election, Hill said, repeating the education process is just as important.

Hill prioritized the review and the approval this year of the unified development ordinance, which updates, streamlines and combines all of the county’s development-related ordinances into one. The new Planning and Development Committee, which Hill chaired before her election to chairwoman, is set Thursday to receive a presentation by staff on the work done to date.

“Let’s complete the UDO in 2013, while thoughtfully balancing the protection of natural resources and open space and also remaining open to new business – businesses that reduce pressures on residential property taxes and provide much-needed jobs right here in McHenry County,” Hill said.

Hill also set this year as a deadline for a plan to address traffic congestion on the Randall Road commercial corridor, especially at Randall and Algonquin roads. With Rakow Road widened and work on the long-delayed Algonquin Western Bypass started, Hill identified Randall Road as the county’s largest transportation bottleneck. She conceded that needed improvements might be too large and expensive to finish in one project, but said the county cannot be intimidated because “Randall Road is critical to the economy of the county.”

As a final priority, Hill said she wants the County Board to strengthen its communications with the people – all 288 of them – it appoints to boards and commissions. Board members have raised questions over the past year about how accountable groups and appointees are to county government.

Hill said she will ask the Management Services Committee to include “clear direction to this initiative” in the County Board rules that are now under post-election review and revision.

One of Hill’s first acts as chairwoman was to ask the State’s Attorney’s Office for guidance on what powers the County Board has to remove appointees. Hill said she did so because of questions raised over the accountability of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, but asked for an opinion on all applicable laws for all boards and commissions.

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