Local Government

Resolution to cut McHenry County Board levy by 10 percent makes progress

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board this month is taking up a resolution to cut the county tax levy by at least 10 percent next year.

The resolution going before the County Board was watered down somewhat last week by its Finance and Audit Committee in that it sets the 10 percent cut as a goal rather than an absolute.

However, board Chairman Jack Franks, who made a 10 percent cut the cornerstone of his successful 2016 election campaign, said the goal will be met.

“The county’s property tax levy will take at least 10 percent less than it did last year,” said Franks, D-Marengo. “We’re going to get this done.”

If passed by the County Board, the resolution amounts to an on-the-record promise to property owners to cut at least $7.93 million in taxation and spending, based on its $79.3 million tax levy for this year. The board over the past five years has not taken the inflationary levy increase it is entitled to under the tax cap in recognition of the plight of county property owners who face one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens, according to one study.

The resolution will only cut the levy for county government, not of other local units of government to which residents pay taxes. However, several township governments this year have cut either their general fund or their road levies by 10 percent in the months leading to last week’s election.

The version that the County Board will see is a rewrite by Finance and Audit Chairman Mike Skala, R-Huntley. Skala told the committee that he was not comfortable setting a mandatory goal before the process begins of figuring out where the cuts are going to come from.

“My concern with setting a hard number is the unknown of where that’s coming from and how we’re going to achieve it,” Skala said.

But while the committee recommended approval of the changed resolution by a 6-0 vote, it vigorously debated the merits of setting a hard number to meet.

Committee member Larry Smith, R-Harvard, said county government departments may not take the cuts seriously without a mandatory absolute.

“Without a hard number … department by department is going to come to us and say, ‘This is what we can do or we’re going to be devastated,’ and we’re not going to get to any type of minimum,” Smith said.

Committee member Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry, agreed.

“If you give them wiggle room, they’re gonna wiggle,” Wheeler said.

Franks said the cuts will take place, and that he trusts Skala and his expertise.

The original resolution was written by board member Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, who wanted the board to take quick and binding action on cutting taxes.

An addition by Franks, which is in the version approved by Finance and Audit, creates a Committee on Tax Reduction to work with county administration to develop tax reduction proposals no later than June 30.

The 12-member committee consists of Franks, the chairmen of each standing committee, and three other members, with Skala acting as vice chairman.

County government accounts for just less than 10 percent of residential property tax bills in McHenry County – about two-thirds of the average bill goes to public schools. While several area school board races in last week’s consolidated election included candidates and slates wanting to reduce taxes, they did not fare particularly well.

About 15 percent of voters participated in the April 4 election.

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