WOODSTOCK – The existence of a police force operated by the McHenry County Conservation District again proved to be a sticking point for some members of the County Board in charge of approving its budget.
Board members voted Tuesday, 16-5, to approve the conservation district’s $27.1 million budget for fiscal 2017, which started April 1. But the minority who voted no took the opportunity to accuse the district of not doing enough to cut costs.
Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said she could not approve a budget that includes a police force, which she said she believes is not the best use of district funds. She voted last year to approve the district’s budget, but warned that she would be looking for changes this year, such as looking to partner with sheriff’s and municipal law enforcement.
“Your budget is, per your own report, getting smaller," Kurtz said. "There are potentially limited funds, and as a result, you aren’t being creative."
While the district’s budget is larger than last year’s $25.3 million budget, the overall property tax levy is $67,780 less. As in previous years since housing values tumbled with the Great Recession, the district called this most recent spending plan a budget aimed at maintaining the district’s 25,000 acres and 33 sites open to the public. Two successful referendums in 2001 and 2007 allowed the district to more than double its protected land.
Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, spoke in the district’s defense, and told Kurtz she was concerned about her “tone” toward the conservation district board, which is appointed by the County Board. She criticized Kurtz’s idea that the district could cut back on its police force and work with other agencies.
“For you to suggest that the municipalities would want to work with them, when they’re under some very serious budget constraints, I think is a little short-sighted,” McCann said.
The district’s police department consists of 13 full-time employees: seven officers, four sergeants, a chief and an administrative assistant. The department accounts for more than $1.3 million of the district’s 2017 budget.
Property taxes make up 83 percent of the district’s operating revenues – state law caps its maximum general fund tax rate to a tenth of a percent of the county’s total assessed value. The district accounts for about $172 of the property tax bill of the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted, 16-5, to approve the 2017 budget for the McHenry County Conservation District.