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Financial successes, calls for reform highlighted in McHenry County State of the County address

Franks touts financial successes in State of the County address

Chairman Jack D. Franks delivers the State of the County address on Tuesday in Woodstock.
Chairman Jack D. Franks delivers the State of the County address on Tuesday in Woodstock.

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks highlighted the county’s financial accomplishments in 2019 during his third State of the County address Tuesday, but said reform efforts should start with a bang in 2020.

Such reform efforts could include the elimination of mileage and health insurance benefits for McHenry County Board members, another reduction to the size of the County Board and the possibility of nonpartisan elections for County Board members.

Finances

Franks began his speech with some of the county’s financial triumphs and called the $15 million rebate of surplus funds from the Valley Hi Nursing Home the county’s crowning achievement.

“The tax burden that our homeowners and businesses struggle under must always be at the forefront of our minds, because it’s the one thing over which we have the most control – and ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done a great job,” Franks said.

More than 50,000 homeowners took advantage of the rebate and received a cut of about $8.5 million in reserve funds. The remaining $6.5 million was returned to Valley Hi, leaving the nursing home with a reserve balance of more than $31 million.

“For those on fixed incomes trying to stay afloat, it was that month’s medications or utility payments,” Franks said. “As for the unclaimed remainder, it returned back to the Valley Hi fund, where an incredibly healthy surplus remains to not only ensure Valley Hi Nursing Home’s continued financial stability, but also further expand Valley Hi’s outstanding services by building a memory care facility.”

Franks also commended the passage of the 2020 county budget, which included permanent levy reductions.

“Believe it or not, it won’t be long until our talented county staff begins developing the 2021 budget and levy,” Franks said. “Once again, we must work hard to find tax savings wherever possible, and we can’t give in to the siren song of raising taxes that lures so many of our other local governments, and is a major factor in driving the ongoing exodus of taxpayers and job creators from Illinois.”

Reform

In 2018, the McHenry County Board voted to reduce the size of the board from 24 members to 18.

This change will take effect with the 2022 election, when all seats are up for election because of redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census. The structure will transform six four-member districts to six three-member districts.

Although he did not give a definitive date, Franks said an ad-hoc committee will be convened to discuss further reductions to the County Board with the possibility of going to single-member districts in 2022.

Another election-related topic that might be up for discussion is the possibility of having nonpartisan elections for McHenry County Board members.

“More and more, partisanship brings out the worst in us,” Franks said. “This isn’t going to get better unless we make it better. It’s time to ask the voters, who I’m pretty sure are just as sick and tired of the partisan anger around them, whether the County Board should be nonpartisan like their City Councils, school boards and other local governments.”

There also will be a special Committee of the Whole meeting next week to discuss resolutions seeking the elimination of insurance and mileage benefits estimated to cost about $317,000 annually.

“We’ve been asking our county departments every year to cut costs, and now it’s our turn to follow suit,” Franks said. “This is low-hanging fruit that, quite frankly, should have been plucked years ago.”

County Board wishes for 2020

McHenry County Board members, meanwhile, called for more civility when conducting business in 2020.

On the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, board member John Reinert shared a quote from the acclaimed civil rights leader: “Never succumb to the temptations of bitterness.”

In that spirit, Reinert said he would try to “refrain from speaking in all capital letters.”

Board member Joe Gottemoller said years ago, he was watching a zoning hearing and started to get angry about the proceedings. Halfway into the meeting, however, Gottemoller said he had been told that his ideas, not his anger, were needed.

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