WOODSTOCK – The theme of McHenry County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller’s second State of the County Address was similar to his first – the only way that McHenry County’s property-tax bills will decrease is through economic development and more taxpayers with good-paying jobs.
The first slide on the screen behind him at the start of his 20-minute annual address underscored that point, simply stating that, “It’s still about the economy.”
Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said the county needs to continue to hold the line on spending, partner regionally to promote manufacturing, and invest in infrastructure to re-energize a county job market that had been dominated by home construction until the collapse of the housing market.
“The construction jobs and housing industry were the primary jobs in McHenry County, and when they left, many of the secondary jobs followed. So how do we bring primary jobs back to McHenry County? No one actually wants to start another housing bubble. As the McHenry County Board, we have an obligation and the ability to turn this around,” Gottemoller said.
One example of the problem is that McHenry County is losing the key job and business age demographic at a pace that is far higher than other areas, according to a statistic Gottemoller cited from a study the County Board approved later in the meeting.
The recently completed Comprehensive Economic Development Study commissioned for McHenry, Boone and Winnebago counties, revealed that they lost almost 8 percent of 25- to 44-year-old residents between 2010 and 2014, or about 12 times what the Chicago region lost in the same demographic.
“The loss in this age group hurts us more than their numbers. This is the age group that starts families and businesses, and invests in our combined future. When they moved, they took their talent and abilities with them. They start those families and businesses someplace else. They work for companies someplace else,” Gottemoller said.
Gottemoller clarified several times that he was not talking about starting another housing bubble, but stimulating job growth across the board to help reduce McHenry County property taxes, that at least one survey said is in the 30 highest of all counties nationwide.
“Until we bring back primary jobs and expand the economic base, we will continue to be overtaxed. Economic development is the only long-term way to lower the property tax bill. When we increase the size of the economy, we spread the costs of services over a larger base,” Gottemoller said.
Board members took a step after Gottemoller’s address when they approved the development study in a 21-2 vote. The plan will allow the three-county region to receive grants and assistance for economic development projects from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The county will present the study later this month at an economic summit it is holding with local businesses and governments to discuss job growth.