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McHenry County Conservation District cuts $206K out of fiscal 2020 budget

Spending plan likely to appear on County Board’s upcoming agenda

Elizabeth Kessler, Executive Director of the McHenry County Conservation District, speaks in front of Todd Donohue (back left) and Amy Haiaer (back right), co-owners of Modcamp LLC, during a presentation put on by the McHenry County Conservation District and Modcamping LLC on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 at the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake.
Elizabeth Kessler, Executive Director of the McHenry County Conservation District, speaks in front of Todd Donohue (back left) and Amy Haiaer (back right), co-owners of Modcamp LLC, during a presentation put on by the McHenry County Conservation District and Modcamping LLC on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 at the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake.

An amended McHenry County Conservation District budget with $206,000 in cuts along with a commitment from the district to lower its 2019 property tax levy will be submitted for McHenry County Board consideration after Thursday’s district board meeting.

The decision to include the amended budget on Tuesday’s County Board meeting agenda ultimately is in the hands of board Chairman Jack Franks, who said he would not call the Conservation District’s budget for a full vote without the changes made Thursday.

But so long as the paperwork checks out, Franks said the $28 million spending plan will appear on Tuesday’s agenda.

The district’s fiscal 2020 budget came under fire after the district board unanimously approved about $206,000 in new property tax revenue. Trustees said this was the first time the levy amount increased in seven years.

Under the levy increase, the bill for a home with a median value of $215,000 would increase by $6.70 because of the conservation district’s property tax increases, said the district’s executive director, Elizabeth Kessler.

This proposal had been rejected by the county’s Finance and Audit Committee, with several members calling for better communication between the County Board and Conservation District during budget season.

In response, the Conservation District board held a special meeting to establish an expedited timetable to get the budget on the County Board’s May meeting agenda.

Cuts will come out of the Dedicated Accounts Capital Fund to avoid reductions in staff or the removal of services.

A total of $180,000 was budgeted for demolition of buildings and restoring land that sustained flood damage along Nippersink Creek. The district is working alongside the county, which has received grant funding from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs, to address this issue.

With demolition procedures underway, trustees decided to remove $160,000 from this line item.

The remaining balance would come from land acquisition expenses.

Although specific grants for land acquisition have not been identified or awarded, $1.5 million of grant revenue was included in the fiscal 2020 budget. This allows for the appropriation and expenditure of related grant revenues should any be received during the fiscal year.

As part of the vote to amend the budget, board members also voted to authorize a memo to be sent to Franks committing the Conservation District to reducing its levy by the 2018 increase minus new growth, which comes out to about $163,681.

The budget and memo were passed by a 5-2 vote with board Chairman Dave Kranz and Trustee Peter Merkel, both of whom have terms expiring in the next few weeks, voting no.

Merkel said he was voting with his heart instead of voting politically, which meant voting in favor of the funding he believes is necessary to continue the work of the Conservation District.

Franks said he appreciates anyone standing up to serve their community, but the Conservation District board needs people asking tough questions about finances and that aren’t simply cheerleaders.

Franks also complimented the work of the Finance and Audit Committee, particularly committee members John Reinert and Chris Christensen, in analyzing the Conservation District’s spending.

“Now, as a result, the Conservation District will get the accountability and scrutiny it’s been lacking for a while,” Franks said.

The County Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the McHenry County Administration Building, 667 Ware Road.

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