WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved a 2018 maintenance budget for the McHenry County Conservation District that contained few, if any, surprises.
The only surprise was that, unlike the recent past, the County Board approved it without debate as part of its routine consent agenda.
The district’s 2018 budget spends $26 million, about $1 million less than the previous spending plan. The district maintains more than 25,000 acres of land and 158.3 linear miles of trails.
Property taxes make up 85.2 percent of the district’s total income – facility and property rental makes up 12.1 percent, with the remainder coming from program fees and interest income.
The district accounts for about $157 of the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.
In past years, several County Board members have cast protest votes against the district budget over proposed pay increases for its staff or the status of the district’s police force.
Several board members have argued that the force should be trimmed, and cooperation with other police forces increased, or eliminated altogether as a cost-cutting measure. The force consists of 13 employees – seven patrol officers, four sergeants who also patrol, a chief and a secretary. The district budget document explicitly stated the need for having its own law enforcement.
“It cannot be emphasized enough that policing in a recreational setting is distinctly unique,” the document says. “McHenry County residents retreat to the outdoors to relax and let their guard down from the stresses of life. Police officers need to be highly present within district sites, not only as ambassadors but to ensure site users do not become victims.”
The County Board’s oversight over the district consists of approving its budget and appointing its board of trustees. The County Board can approve or reject the budget, but it cannot amend it.
The district’s budget year runs from April 1 to March 30. State law gives conservation districts three months into a fiscal year to approve a budget, in the event that a county board rejects it.