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McHenry County GOP leaders: Want tax cuts? Look at libraries

Libraries under attack in McHenry County political realm

Townships are not the only public bodies in the crosshairs of Republican leaders scrutinizing their tax bills and looking for taxes to slash.

“They never go after the libraries,” Algonquin Township Republican Party Chairman Glen Swanson said.

“Illinois has the highest-paid librarians in the country,” McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Diane Evertsen said.

Both Swanson and Evertsen shared their concerns about libraries last week with state Sen. Dan McConchie, a Hawthorn Woods Republican who stopped at the Crystal Lake Colonial Cafe to drink coffee with his constituents.

The 26th District leader said he had heard an out-of-town visitor once describe an area library as something like the “Taj Mahal.” McConchie pointed to the “very property-rich southern part” of Lake County, where “every year they take the max they can under the tax caps” and build “massive” facilities.

“Sure,” McConchie said, “they provide nice services to their folks, but I walk in there, and there’s people that are just sitting there on the clock doing absolutely nothing.”

Swanson, who lives in Algonquin Township, shared his tax bill with the Northwest Herald. In 2017, he paid $428 in taxes for the libraries. This year, he’ll pay $448, he said.

To Swanson, the attacks on townships should be redirected to libraries.

“To me, if you want to make a difference to taxpayers, go after the biggies,” Swanson said, describing the cut of his tax bill that goes to school districts and libraries.

Library leaders contend the GOP has it all wrong.

“I’m appalled by that kind of rhetoric,” said Crystal Lake Public Library Director Kathryn Martens, who earns $150,273 a year with salary and benefits, according to payroll records.

In the 21st century, Martens said, libraries are more than book lenders; they are refuges and community gathering places.

“Anyone who thinks it’s a building with a bunch of books in it probably hasn’t been inside a library recently,” Martens said. “The library is there for every stage of life.”

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks characterized himself as a “frequent user and a strong supporter” of public libraries.

“Our libraries deliver essential services to our citizens,” Franks said, adding that there always is room for more efficiency. “Like any taxing entity,
I encourage them to continue to seek efficiencies to reduce the property tax burdens that our citizens face.”

Those residents have spoken on the proliferation of library space in the past.

In 2016, a majority of Crystal Lake voters opposed an advisory referendum recommending that the Crystal Lake City Council borrow $30.1 million to build a new library.

Supporters argued that the 50-year-old library is inadequate for future technology. The group wanted to build a new, 75,000-square-foot facility at its existing site at 126 W. Paddock St. – about two times the size of its current 40,000-square-foot home.

Opponents believed the project was too ambitious and expensive. Some contend that libraries are turning into a glorified movie rental house.

Building and equipping a new library would have increased property taxes about $132 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000.

About 10,579 voters, or 56 percent, voted “no,” and 8,453 voters, or 44 percent, voted “yes,” according to unofficial results.

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