Three Republican candidates with decidedly different skill sets and backgrounds are seeking two open seats in District 1 of the McHenry County Board.
Four-year incumbent Bob Nowak, formerly planning and zoning director for Cary, is running against two challengers – retired Air Force officer turned space policy guru Andrew Gasser of Fox River Grove and David Stieper, a Barrington Hills attorney with a master’s in business administration.
Nowak, now living in Lake in the Hills, touted county government’s achievements, its balanced budget and top-notch credit rating during a Thursday interview with the Northwest Herald editorial board.
“It’s a great place to live, and I want to see that growth to continue,” Nowak said.
But Gasser and Stieper both stated that county government has a lot of work to do when it comes to tax relief and accountability.
Both candidates pledged to not accept the health insurance and pension benefits that come with the office, and Gasser went further by pledging to limit himself to two terms.
“The bottom line is that we can’t afford the cost of this government anymore, and I’m running to put a stop to it,” Stieper said.
District 1 covers southern and eastern Algonquin townships and a sliver of Grafton Township, including parts of Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Lake in the Hills and Barrington Hills.
The two winners will run Nov. 6 against Democratic incumbent Nick Chirikos of Algonquin for the two open seats.
Both Gasser and Stieper talked about their blogs in establishing their bona fides when it comes to cutting government spending.
Gasser on his blog has shed light on allegations of overspending and bureaucratic bloating at the McHenry County Mental Health Board. As founder of Tea Party in Space, a group dedicated to applying free-market principles to space exploration, he received national recognition for pointing out billions of dollars in cost overruns on NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope. Stieper wrote on a blog called Preserve Barrington Hills to highlight allegations of mismanagement by Barrington Hills elected officials.
Gasser pointed out that McHenry County’s property taxes are consistently rated among the highest in the nation by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. While county government accounts for about 10 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill, Gasser said it needs to run a lot leaner. He added that his election would give the County Board something it does not have now – an Armed Forces veteran – and that county government would be the better for it.
“Run our county like a business, and not so much like a government,” Gasser said.
When asked about any County Board decision he disagreed with the most, Nowak first answered that he to his knowledge has never cast a negative vote. But he later clarified that those majority votes included the county’s choice in recent years to keep its levy flat and voluntarily reject the inflationary increase it is entitled to under the tax cap. He did not single out anything particular in the county budget for potential elimination.
“I was very surprised to see how tight the budget is in McHenry County. There isn’t a lot of excess money being spent,” Nowak said.
His challengers disagreed. Gasser said the county could save money by outsourcing its information technology services and Animal Control. Stieper said the county should take a serious look at privatizing Valley Hi Nursing Home, which is now in the black, yet also receives a tax levy from county taxpayers.
“It’s easy not to raise the levy when it’s jacked up so high already,” Stieper said.
The challengers also had less-than-kind words for the proposed continuous-flow intersection at Randall and Algonquin roads, part of a plan to widen Randall to six lanes. District 1 is on the south side of the intersection.
Stieper said a CFI makes no sense, and called the projected time savings minimal compared to the cost. He likewise aired concerns about political and family connections between some County Board members and the companies that last week won the design and right-of-way contracts.
Gasser said that in his last round of walking the district and knocking on 100 doors, he could not find a single resident who supports the concept.
“When somebody in government says something needs to be done, it’s time to fear for your wallet,” Gasser said.
Nowak, who voted last week in favor of the contracts, reiterated that building a CFI is not set in stone, and that the designers could come back with other alternatives.