After 120 years of continuous growth, McHenry County’s population has hit a rut. Population has declined slightly amid national migration trends that show people moving to the West and South.
McHenry County had a net loss of 184 people between July 2015 and July 2016, according to the new data, making for an overall loss of 1,756 since the decennial 2010 Census to 307,004. Since 2010, McHenry County has lost population in every annual estimate but one.
Those numbers are sobering in the face of the county’s past growth. The heady growth of the past two decades has evaporated. And the contrasts are stark: In the mid-1990s, Crystal Lake- area schools had to use split-shift scheduling in a bid to avoid overcrowding hallways and classrooms. More recently, Community High School District 155 has raised the possibility of closing a school as enrollment declines.
Job growth, a key demographic driver, also isn’t what it used to be at the county and state level. The state’s job growth since the Great Recession has paled in comparison to neighboring states. Studies commissioned for McHenry County show that about two-thirds of working residents commute to other counties for work.
One certain reason for the problems in Illinois and McHenry County is property taxes. It’s high time for our elected officials at the state and local levels to change the way they think about taxing and spending. McHenry County has many attractive qualities, but it’s not getting any more temperate, sunny or scenic. Without ocean views or warmer weather, McHenry County’s property tax burden becomes that much more unbearable.
And as more residents leave, a smaller pool of taxpayers is left to pick up the ever-growing property tax bill.
School boards and other taxing bodies need to live within their means while state lawmakers must tackle Illinois’ unbalanced education funding formula.
On the reverse side of the exodus trend, property taxes here have grown so large that they also are keeping some people from packing up and moving out because they’re concerned about how the taxes impact selling their homes.
Our leaders at the state and local levels also need to do more to attract jobs to Illinois and McHenry County. This almost certainly will involve fighting to make sure the county and local municipalities get a fair share of state and federal dollars for infrastructure improvements.
McHenry County can be a great place to live, but it’s going to be a struggle without significant reforms at nearly every level of government.