McHenry County Board members’ love-hate relationship with Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks – they love to hate him – may get more intense with his latest initiative.
In a letter sent Thursday morning to all 24 board members, Franks asked them to put two nonbinding advisory referendums on the Nov. 4 ballot regarding two of his more high-profile taxpayer initiatives.
One would ask voters whether governments should be forbidden from increasing property tax levies if overall assessed value falls. The other asks whether the County Board should shrink to 16 members, each representing their own district instead of the current structure of six, four-member districts.
Franks, of Marengo, said both efforts will gauge the public’s interest in issues which he maintains will decrease their property tax burden. He said he sent out the letter after first approaching County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, who Franks said was not amenable to the referendums.
“These proposals are brought to you in the spirit of cooperation, in hopes that by working together we can better serve all the citizens of McHenry County,” Franks said.
Hill could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But the Republican-dominated County Board, much of which considers Franks a power-hungry meddler, is not likely to give the referendums a warm welcome. It was pressure from Franks, most notably in the form of a 2012 referendum to change to a county executive form of government, that resulted in the successful March 2014 ballot initiative to make the County Board chairmanship popularly elected starting in 2016.
The referendum proposals, if they are entertained at all, would have to go through the board’s Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. While Chairman John Jung said he has no problem with the property tax referendum or cutting the board’s size, he has issues over whether the rural western half of the county, which has fought encroaching development, would be fairly represented under single-member districts.
Jung also echoed the same concerns over the Franks initiatives that his fellow County Board members have in the past.
“I don’t know why he worries so much about McHenry County,” said Jung, R-Woodstock. “He’s a resident, I’ll give him that, and he has as much right as anybody else to give his opinion on stuff ... but I think he’d be busy enough in Springfield, with the way things are going in the state.”
Franks in recent years has made several unsuccessful attempts to pass laws that would forbid governments under the tax cap from raising their property tax rates to compensate for decreasing values with the bursting of the housing bubble. While the letter points out that local governments spent taxpayer dollars for lobbyists to fight tax reform, Franks said that county government should have no problem with an advisory referendum now, given that it has held its levy flat for two straight years to help struggling taxpayers.
An attempt by Franks to put the advisory referendum on ballots statewide did not advance in the House, which is adjourned until after the election.
“I think the [tax cap referendum] is a no-brainer,” Franks said. “There’s not one person who I’ve talked to who disagrees with this, except those who make the decisions with our tax dollars.”
The idea of an advisory referendum about shrinking the County Board comes from his chairmanship of the Local Government Consolidation Commission, which released its final report about paring down the state’s 7,000-plus units of government earlier this year. It concluded that local governments should seek efficiencies by slimming down and sharing services.
Altering the size and districts of the County Board requires a binding voter referendum, except during the once-a-decade redistricting process. While the McHenry County Board rejected calls to change during 2011 redistricting, three other collar counties did not – Kane and Lake counties shrunk the size of their boards, and Will County increased the number of districts.
The Democratic Party of McHenry County is making shrinking the County Board part of its campaign for its four board candidates. But Franks said he is livid the party “politicized” what he called good intentions, and that he wants to work with the County Board and “not try to score political points.”
However, party Chairman Michael Bissett said he is happy Franks is pushing the idea to shrink the board’s size.
“Honestly, I hope it’s a bipartisan thing,” Bissett said. “I don’t see this as a Democrat versus Republican thing. I see this as something the voters should get behind.”
Franks made clear that he is not pushing for County Board changes as an effort to run for the chairman’s seat in two years, following the footsteps of former state senators Chris Lauzen and Dan Cronin, now chairmen of the Kane and DuPage county boards.
“What I’m trying to do is reduce our property taxes in McHenry County and make it livable so people don’t leave,” Franks said. “I can promise you I am not running for county chairman in 2016. This has nothing to do with me. This is about good government.”
Local governments have until Aug. 18 to put advisory referendums on the November ballot, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.