Local Election

Advisory referendum to shrink size of McHenry County Board advances

WOODSTOCK – A nonbinding question asking voters if they would like to shrink the size of the McHenry County Board is again on the move toward placement on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The board’s Management Services Committee voted Monday morning, 6-0, to advance an advisory referendum to the full County Board. The amended question does not cite a particular target number, but merely asks voters if they want the County Board reduced from its current size of 24 members, not counting the elected chairman.

The original version, which committee members postponed earlier this month, asked voters if they wanted to halve the County Board to 12 members, but eliminating a target number in the proposal made it more palatable, said committee Vice Chairman Mike Skala, R-Huntley.

Besides differing opinions among board members as to what the ultimate size should be, Skala said, voters will not have a chance to vote on a binding referendum until after the 2020 U.S. Census.

“By simply asking if they want it reduced, we can get a pulse as to whether it’s something the voters want,” Skala said. “And you have two more election cycles, not counting the one this fall, before you have the people seated on the County Board who would make that decision.”

Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, proposed the referendum, citing the example that counties such as Los Angeles County – which has an annual budget greater than half of the states in the U.S. – is run by a five-member board of supervisors. A consolidation initiative on the part of County Board members, to say nothing of one spearheaded by a chairman, is a departure from past years, in which County Board members have rejected calls to downsize or change its current makeup of six four-member districts.

Three other collar-county boards took advantage of the 2010 U.S. Census to shrink themselves. The size of the County Board 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. State law gives voters a window after each decennial U.S. Census to change the size of county boards.

Should they approve such a referendum after the 2020 census, they would then elect their new, smaller County Board in the 2022 election in which all seats would be up because of redistricting.

The Lake and Kane county boards each shrank by two board members in 2012, 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. The County Board could vote to place the advisory question on the ballot as soon as its May 3 meeting.

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