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Our View: Live within your means

Published: Sunday, April 6, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 11:27 a.m. CDT

What’s happening now with the McHenry County Conservation District is exactly what should have happened with many other units of government when the housing bubble burst and home values plunged.

The district is making plans to operate with less revenue.

MCCD expects to lose an estimated $2 million in property tax revenue over the next five years as declining property values lower the maximum the district is allowed to levy for its general fund.

A bill making its way through the General Assembly – legislation that we do not support – would rectify MCCD’s declining revenue by raising the district’s maximum tax rate from 10 cents to 15 cents per $100 in assessed value.

In the meantime, though, MCCD has budgeted as if it won’t receive additional revenue and is making tough choices with expenses.

Imagine that.

Government acting like a business.

Or a household.

When the housing crisis sent the economy into the Great Recession, businesses and families alike had to make tough choices to reduce spending to meet the new reality.

Government units at all levels – local, state, federal – should have done the same thing. Instead, most continued to squeeze taxpayers for every penny they could get.

Anticipating less money this fiscal year, MCCD is planning to tighten its belt. Employees will have to pay more for their health insurance. Fewer capital improvements will be made. Some programs will be eliminated, and office hours at some parks will be scaled back.

We don’t cheer any of these cuts, but they are the much better option than to continue to take more from beleaguered taxpayers.

Sens. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, recently filed legislation – two bills, actually – on behalf of MCCD. The first, as we’ve stated, would increase MCCD’s tax rate. The second would allow the district to issue some bonds without voter approval.

We agree with some County Board members who pushed back against the legislation.

“Looking for more funding in times of such fiscal difficulty doesn’t seem to be logical right now,” Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee member Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, told conservation district representatives at a committee meeting last week.

Exactly.

MCCD and all units of government must tighten their collective belts and stop asking for more. And taxpayers must be willing to accept a reduction in services or programs as a result.

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