WOODSTOCK – Creating an environment that encourages creation of good-paying jobs should be the top priority for the McHenry County Board, new Chairman Joe Gottemoller said in his first State of the County address.
His 20-minute speech Tuesday morning, while touching on recent achievements and efforts to keep costs down to help taxpayers, focused on a core message that improving the county’s economic vitality is paramount, given the state’s slow post-recession recovery.
“In my mind, there is no more important work we can do than take steps to bring jobs to our county and reclaim our place as the greatest location in Illinois to work, live and raise a family,” Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said.
Gottemoller’s address, accompanied by slides containing data, came the day before new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to give the State of the State address, in which he is expected to detail his proposals to get Illinois out of economic decline.
The housing boom fueled much of McHenry County’s economy during the boom years, which promptly ended in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market. While McHenry County recorded 4,282 residential housing construction permits in 2002, only 280 permits were issued in 2010, Gottemoller said.
“The collapse of the construction industry that resulted from the tanking of the housing market cost McHenry County many good-paying jobs that have not returned. This may be the single most significant issue facing McHenry County at this time – the need for sustainable jobs. We as a county need to work together to find ways to bring jobs back to McHenry County,” Gottemoller said.
Gottemoller said the county should focus on improving its manufacturing base, which he said accounts for almost one job in five. While Gottemoller credited McHenry County College, the Workforce Network and the Economic Development Corp. for helping find and train skilled employees, he said county government can do its part by ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to get people to their jobs and the products to market.
The county in recent years has overseen significant transportation improvements, such as the long-awaited widening of Rakow Road and the Algonquin Western Bypass. The state has started work on the widening of Route 14 between Woodstock and Crystal Lake. And Gottemoller highlighted potential future improvements such as widening and improving Randall Road and helping Marengo get an interchange at Interstate 90, which would be McHenry County’s first connection with the interstate highway system – the recently completed full interchange at Huntley is just over the border in Kane County.
Gottemoller’s address was not all bad news – county government for the past three years has kept its property tax levy frozen and eliminated 164 jobs since 2010, while keeping a top Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service, and the almost $9.9 million in estimated sales tax receipts for 2014 is back to where it was at its peak. But slow economic recovery and sluggish return of construction is a point of concern, Gottemoller said.
What’s more, he said, the county “for the first time in recent history” lost population in the years since the 2010 U.S. Census.
“Once again, I point to job creation. We simply are not providing jobs and opportunities that are keeping our residents and their grown children in our county,” Gottemoller said.
Board members in their comments near the end of Tuesday’s meeting lauded Gottemoller’s address, but not without interjecting some ideas of their own.
Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, warned that the county should not peg progress and recovery to going back to the boom days of housing construction, citing its effect on property taxes, open space and the environment.
“That’s not necessarily the case. It’s a double-edged sword,” Walkup said.
And while county government has kept its levy frozen, board member Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, said the county needs to talk with other local governments that each year are taking the maximum allowed under law and “let them know we don’t appreciate that.”