Local Government

Voters may get advisory referendum to shrink McHenry County Board's size

WOODSTOCK – An already crowded and important November ballot also may include an advisory question asking voters whether they want to shrink the size of the McHenry County Board.

A proposal working its way through its Management Services Committee would put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot to reduce the size of the 24-member board. While the original referendum proposal is to halve it to 12 members, the committee could tweak it depending on research and debate, said committee Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.

Hill said members want to discuss the ultimate size and how it would affect the current committee structure, board compensation and how representative districts would be set up.

“There’s going to be something [on the ballot]. It just depends on what it’s going to look like,” Hill said after Monday morning’s meeting.

The County Board in past years has rejected the idea of either downsizing or changing its current makeup of six four-member districts. However, a visit last year to the National Association of Counties annual conference by McHenry County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, who originated the proposed referendum, gave the idea new life.

When Gottemoller learned Los Angeles County is run by a five-member board of supervisors – the county’s $28 billion annual budget is greater than half of the states in the U.S. – he said McHenry County has no excuse not to downsize.

On salary alone, he said not counting benefits, halving the County Board’s size would result in an annual savings of about $250,000 a year. He said he wanted to pursue this since the conference, but did not want to make it an election issue.

“We have 24 people running a much smaller budget. There’s no reason to have 24 people doing what we’re doing. There just isn’t,” said Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.

Gottemoller said questions about districts and committee structure can wait until another day. Besides the fact that this is an advisory referendum, a binding referendum can’t be asked of voters until after the 2020 U.S. Census, before the redistricting for the 2022 election.

The County Board’s size has stayed the same since 1972, ever since voters began directly electing its members after the new state Constitution ended the practice of county boards made up of township supervisors. In 1992, the board went from three districts of eight members each to its current configuration of six, four-member districts.

While the County Board in recent years has entertained prodding to shrink its size or adopt one- or two-member districts, most of its members have seen no need to do so. Other collar counties took advantage of the 2010 U.S. Census to downsize.

The Lake and Kane county boards each shrank by two board members, in preparation for the time in which those counties reach 800,000 people and have to shrink to 18 members under state law, as the DuPage County Board did in 2000. Will County shrank its board by one member, but overhauled its boundaries from large nine-member districts to smaller two-member districts.

The McHenry County Board’s size is average compared to the other collar counties. The Kane County Board also has 24 members, the Lake County Board has 21 members and the Will County Board has 26.

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