Candidates for the McHenry County Board of Directors in District 2 said the public wants to talk about money.
Voters, they said, told them of their worries about property taxes, inflation and general uncertainty about the economy.
The county council has its own financial concerns. After years of no levy increases, the county is trying to make up a $2.6 million budget shortfall, including $1.2 million in unfunded state mandates.
Five people are running for the two open seats in District 2: Democrats Gloria Van Hof and incumbent John Collins, Republicans John Reinert and incumbent Jeff Thorsen, and Libertarian Jake Justen. All applicants live in Crystal Lake.
District 2 includes all or parts of Crystal Lake, Lakewood, Lake in the Hills and Algonquin.
“We always get people asking about taxes and always, ‘Why are they so high? What can we do about it?’ Van Hof said of his interactions with voters during the election campaign.
Collins, also a Democratic candidate, said his constituents want to know if he is “using taxpayers’ money in the best and most efficient way possible.”
For Collins, he thinks the board’s financial responsibility should include looking at long-term needs and paying for them through bonds.
“The county is debt-free, and for a lot of people that’s a fantastic thing – a government that’s debt-free. But it comes at a cost,” Collins said.
When bonds are issued for 20 to 30 years to pay for a project such as a bridge, “you’ve opened up that $3 million for more immediate things,” Collins said.
Van Hof said his financial responsibility goes beyond just saving taxpayers’ money “but investing it wisely and being very careful, so when you look at your plan and your goals, what you want to accomplish with these savings.
Thorsen, the incumbent Republican, said he did not support an increase in the tax levy.
State law allows county councils to increase their levies to capture new construction growth plus 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Lawmakers are being told they must levy to capture new construction “or lose it forever,” Thorsen said. “It’s a motivation that’s artificially motivated… that even if you don’t need the money, you’re going to take it,” he said.
Any cuts to the budget or the tax must be sustainable, Thorsen said, so the board doesn’t have to increase it in the next budget cycle.
Reinert, a former board member who was not elected in 2020, said McHenry County’s AAA bond rating is attributable to its history of fiscal responsibility.
“Fiscal responsibility will be key to ensuring McHenry County remains a great place to live. High taxes … don’t help us foster growth,” he said.
It is this same bond rating, according to Collins, that the county should benefit from.
While rising interest rates are a concern, “with the financial shape of the county, we can borrow money very, very cheaply,” Collins said. “…We could borrow between 4% and 5%.”
Justen, the Libertarian, opposed the use of bonds to fund county needs.
“Borrowing money…it will only push [costs] in the future and on business owners and families looking for a place to live. Fiscal responsibility is about spending money within your means,” Justen said.
Higher taxes, if approved by the county council, will place an additional burden on people “suffering the adverse effects of inflation on the costs of food, gas, heating and energy”, a said Justin.